Exploring the prairie at Nygren Wetland Preserve. Photo: Jill Kennay

Connecting the Community to Natural Treasures

Today (4/26/19) Winnebago County Chairman Frank Haney and Severson Dells Nature Center Director Ann Wasser announced the launch of the 815 Outside initiative today at Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve at a news conference. 815 Outside is an alliance of non-profit and public service organizations working together to promote opportunities to connect with green space and experience nature for enhanced quality of life. Partners include Winnebago County, Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (RACVB), Severson Dells Nature Center, Natural Land Institute, Forest Preserves of Winnebago County, Nature at the Confluence, Rockford Park District, and Klehm Arboretum.

A growing body of research is linking physical and mental well-being to spending time in nature. Winnebago County is ranked the third unhealthiest county in the state, but has the benefit of forest preserves and parks that offer free access to natural areas. The county government has long understood the importance of these resources and is now taking the step to help connect the community to the natural treasures in the county. The goal of the 815 Outside initiative is to encourage residents to utilize green spaces and explore outdoor recreational opportunities in Winnebago County to improve health, wellness and quality of life.

Winnebago County Board Chairman Frank Haney has helped to spearhead the 815 Outside alliance. He said, “Winnebago County and the Rockford Region have a lot of things going for it these days, including world class healthcare, leading manufacturing and aerospace, a thriving airport, outstanding education and cultural institutions. One of the best kept secrets is its natural assets. I am not aware of a community in the Midwest that offers the outdoor experiences we do, whether that be our award-winning parks and forest preserves, trails, or rivers. Join me in ‘unplugging’ from the constant noise of technology and social media and explore some of the green spaces that are the envy of communities all over the Midwest.”

Jack Armstrong, Severson Dells Nature Center and the Rockford Park District board member and volunteer nature educator, added, “Getting away from screens and being outside helps kids learn better and improve their attention span. There is a great benefit to the community to go outside and enjoy nature.”

815 Outside hosts a website (www.815outside.com) and Facebook page (815 Outside) which provide a comprehensive guide to the area’s green spaces, outdoor activities, free and low-cost nature-related events, and resources and inspiration for getting outdoors.

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