VIU’s Milner Gardens & Woodland partnering with BC Parks Foundation on PaRx initiative to allow people free access to nature to benefit their health.
Spending time connecting with nature is a powerful way for people to improve their health and well-being, and now those most in need can access Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) Milner Gardens & Woodland for free through a nature prescription program called PaRx.
PaRx is a national initiative by the BC Parks Foundation that allows a licensed health professional to write patients a nature prescription so they can access national parks, historic sites, natural marine conservation areas and gardens for free to benefit their health and well-being. PaRx has partnered with Milner Gardens & Woodland to be one of several sites across the province health professionals can write prescriptions.
“This is about opening Milner Gardens & Woodland to those who need it and after the community has given us so much it’s the least we can do. It’s paying it forward,” says Geoff Ball, Executive Director of Milner Gardens & Woodland.
Dr. Melissa Lem, PaRx Director and a Vancouver family physician, says PaRx is trying to build partnerships with different urban-based nature organizations, like Milner Gardens, to reduce barriers for patients and make sure everyone has access to nature.
“One of the great things about gardens is that they’re typically more accessible. Not everyone may feel comfortable heading out into the backwoods or into a forest away from amenities, especially if you’re elderly or have mobility issues,” says Lem. “It opens up a new kind of nature experience for people who don’t necessarily want to head out into more wild spaces, but still confers health benefits because they’re surrounded by green space and nature.”
Ball says there is a sense of security at Milner Gardens because staff, volunteers and other community members are around to keep an eye out in case of an emergency.
“People just feel a little bit safer, and they are in a beautiful forest by the water. They know there is background support,” he says.
According to PaRx, research shows that kids and adults who spend more time in nature are happier and healthier.
Ball says he’s seen the effects nature has on people while working at Milner Gardens.
“I’ve walked countless tours over the years and I can see when I meet a group, whether it is two people or a group of 40, from the time I meet them at their car to the time we get to the garden or water I can watch their stress levels start to slowly go down,” he says. “They start to breathe easier, be more relaxed and they comment that it is so tranquil and peaceful here. I have seen it time and time again.”
Another goal of the PaRx program is to increase pro-environmental behaviours.
“Research shows that when people are more connected to nature, they are more likely to protect it. They’re more likely to engage in conservation measures and pro-environmental behaviors that go beyond conservation efforts like recycling, saving energy and other climate actions,” says Lem. “It’s part of an overall push to try to get people to care about the green spaces in their neighbourhoods, to care about nature and our planet, and want to protect it.”
PaRx was launched in BC in November 2020 and has since expanded to every province in Canada. Learn more about PaRx on the park prescriptions website.
Rachel Stern, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University