Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Natural Escape for the Holidays

Today’s article was sent to us by John Egan, the editor of Bankrate's website ( John is an
experienced journalist and a passionate traveler who has written for the
San Francisco Examiner
and Technorati. He's received the SABEW
Best-in-Business Award,
as well as the American City Business Journal's
web award. John’s goal is to deliver high-quality information to drivers so they can make informed decisions about choices that affect their pocket books and their driving experience. A significant number of visitors to John's website have expressed an interest in eco-friendly travel. As a result, John has submitted a wonderful article on finding natural wonders closer to home.

Finding a Solitary Natural Escape

 Is there anything in life more restorative to the spirit than time spent amidst nature? When we get time off from work, we're attracted to national parks and wonders of the natural world. Even for those that never venture into the woods or take the time to be still amidst nature, our inherent attraction to these places speaks to the value of time spent in the wild.

 At our core, human beings are animals that fit into nature just as any other living, breathing thing. Recognizing our place in the greater scheme of the world makes our everyday worries and stresses seem insignificant. By removing ourselves from our regular situation and observing the greater processes at work on the planet, we heighten our consciousness and rejuvenate our minds.

 In my travels, I've discovered a consistent tool for finding natural escapes -- the preserves of the Nature Conservancy. In Canada, the nonprofit organization is working to protect the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, a region that includes a quarter of the world's remaining temperate coastal rainforest. In the U.S., where I work, their impact is spread across all 50 states. By preserving isolated tracts of land deemed to be ecologically valuable, the Nature Conservancy helps keep natural heritages alive around the country.

These preserves are generally free to visit and attract far fewer people than state and national parks, allowing visitors the chance to truly disappear on their own into nature. Their website includes listings of all their preserves around the world. Best of all, many of these are just a short drive from major metropolitan areas, meaning that I can take a day trip from almost anywhere in the country that I happen to be working. 

 Here are a few of my favorite I've discovered so far:

 Malmberg Prairie, Minnesota

 One of my favorite aspects of nature preserves is that they often remind us of how all the land in an area once looked, before agriculture and urbanization set in. Nowhere is this more dramatic than on the plains of the Midwest. Just outside border town Grand Forks, North Dakota, Malmburg Prairie Scientific and Natural Area showcases one of the last remaining grasslands in the Red River Valley. The 80-acre preserve is tucked amidst fields of soybeans, grain, and sunflowers. Unlike other preserves, this tiny tract was never cultivated, making it a true 'original prairie.' Look out for the rare white lady's slipper flower and listen for short-eared owls.

 Thousand Acre Swamp, New York

When most people think of Rochester, New York, they picture a manufacturing boomtown along Lake Ontario. I think of swamps. Just east of the city, this 500-acre preserve amidst a larger swamp lives up to (half of) its name, allowing visitors to escape deep into a wet wonderland filled with birds, from great blue herons to ruffed grouse. Trails wind through the woods and extensive boardwalks over wetlands showcase marsh plants from witchhazel to trout lilies.

 Little Rock Island, Oregon

 Just south of Portland, Little Rock Island Preserve is an easy escape from the city along the Willamette River. Streams and channels cut through the rocky island, which is forested on the northern half. A true island in the river, Little Rock is reached by boat -- hail a ride at the town of West Linn's Willamette Falls Park boat landing, or launch your own canoe or kayak for a true adventure on a wild island you'll likely have all to yourself.

Building a list of favorite natural escapes is a lifetime quest. Wherever you live or travel, there is likely a beautiful place to explore within a short road-trip away. What are your reasons for finding time to be alone in nature?

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