Local community group breaking barriers and connecting people to nature, community and self

Youth aged 11 to 13 participating in a Flying Squirrel Adventures nature outing in collaboration with The Portal on the Bigelow Trails in Canning.
Youth aged 11 to 13 participating in a Flying Squirrel Adventures nature outing in collaboration with The Portal on the Bigelow Trails in Canning.

Joy, playfulness and freedom. These are three words that Judy Lipp, program coordinator of Flying Squirrel Adventures (FSA) used to describe the shift she sees when people connect – or reconnect – with nature. 

From nature play sessions that encourage barefoot time in a stream to educational outings that offer tips and tools for learning about local flora and fauna, this group has been organizing free nature outings for the community to experience the physical, emotional and social benefits of spending time in nature since 2018.

FSA is a community group based out of Kings County, Nova Scotia and operates with the support of the Blomidon Naturalists Society

It offers free outings for all ages in inspiring outdoor settings, facilitated activities and free time for participants to experience nature at their own pace. 

Lipp said these outings are all about connections.

“These connections are not just about nature,” she explained. “It’s about connections to each other and connections to self. All those three pieces are actually absent in our society – because people are on screens and rushing from one thing to the next. There’s so much disconnect.”

Although the number of participants at their regular monthly outings has been very positive, FSA decided they wanted to reach people who may face barriers to participate. 

Some of these barriers may include transportation, awareness, anxiety and lack of confidence to show up to community events. 

The group has connected with community partners that already have relationships with people who could benefit from this program and is working with them to identify outing opportunities and to help overcome the barriers.

SchoolsPlus was one of the first of these partners.

SchoolsPlus helps families navigate the system and get the services they need within the school system and community. 

They helped identify students that would be interested and benefit from FSA programming and supported their participation through transportation and providing food.  

In July 2019, three groups of eight students spent half the day in the beautiful Kentville Ravine with FSA.  

“You could see in the beginning, some of them were trying hard not to let their guard down and have fun,” said Lipp. “However within the first hour you could see the shift – they had all let it go and had fun.”

When the COVID-19 global pandemic hit and health and safety restrictions were established in the province, FSA outings were cancelled.

As many people had to adapt their work and lifestyle on the fly, so did Lipp. She spent a lot of time outside going for walks with her family.

During these walks they started collecting rocks and taking them home to paint.

That was when Lipp came up with an idea to keep others connected with nature even if they could not be out in nature together. 

She reached out to SchoolsPlus and worked with them to identify families that would be interested in receiving nature activity kits. The kits included everything needed – with no need to go outdoors if people weren’t comfortable to do so. 

Thirty families were identified and the initial rock painting kits distributed. 

In the process of talking to other community partners and expanding her own nature craft repertoire, four kits were ultimately created with a fifth in the works. 

The activity kits include, nature arts and crafts, mandala art, flower growing and a zen garden box.  A Monarch activity kit will be completed and distributed in August.  At the time of writing 120 kits have already been distributed. 

“The need [to connect with nature] is even greater but also the barriers are now different too – potentially greater to some audiences,” explained Lipp.

Explaining that some people do not have easy access to go for a hike in the woods or play by a stream. Others may not be as comfortable leaving their homes during COVID-19.

While in-person sessions is where the real connection happens, sending activities home felt, for Lipp,  like an important offering to make during the initial months of COVID-19. 

Through the summer FSA has been able to lead a number of nature sessions for various groups including the Portal Youth Outreach Association, Great Beginnings and Big Brothers, Big Sisters. 

Other conversations for collaborative outings are in the works with a number of community groups and Lipp is excited about the growing interest in the FSA offering and the heightened awareness about the importance of connecting people to nature and each other.  

“My hope is to establish a regular outdoor series for a number of different groups so that the participants can deepen their learning in the outdoors and their connections to nature, self and others.”  

In 2019, this program received full funding through the Eastern Kings, Central Kings and Western Kings Community Heath Board (CHB) Wellness Fund. 

Each year, Nova Scotia Health designates funds for each CHB in the province to distribute as Wellness Funds (WF).

This Wellness Fund is for non-profit groups working to improve health in their communities and must address the health priorities identified by CHBs in their current community health plans.