June is National Trails Month which means that Excelsior staff and students are celebrating our Nature Wellness Trail! To kick off the month, we launched our 2nd annual Walking Contest to motivate staff to get outside and walk the trail. Staff members have created teams of 10 for some friendly competition to see who can log the most steps. Totals will be tallied on June 26th and our winner will be crowned at our Employee Wellness Fair on July 15th!
Additionally, we’ve officially opened two new gardens along the Nature Wellness Trail to provide additional therapeutic and educational elements. These two gardensgive our girls and staff additional spaces and resources with which they reflect, learn and grow.
Recent Developments of the Nature Wellness Trail
Sensory Therapy Garden
Our new sensory garden provides an intimate space where our girls can be immersed in the scents, textures, and colors of plants and nature. Sensory gardens are designed to stimulate the senses, which is beneficial to people of all ages, especially those who have sensory processing issues as many of our girls do. Our therapists find our new sensory garden to be very therapeutic for our girls, a place where they can immediately feel comforted and safe. The plants in our sensory garden vary in height, color, texture and scent, providing year-round sensory interest. Perennials, groundcovers, ornamental grasses, small shrubs and edible plants have been incorporated to appeal to all the senses and pique the interest of our girls.
Colorado Natives Garden
Just down the Trail from our Sensory Therapy Garden, we’ve added a Colorado Natives Garden, featuring plants that grow naturally in Colorado. Included in this garden is a Blue Spruce (Colorado’s State Tree), Columbine (Colorado’s State flower), and other Colorado natives such as Rocky Mountain Blue Penstemon, Lupine, and Gaillardia. This educational garden helps our girls learn about Colorado plants and how the weather and environment in Colorado support the lifecycle of certain types of flowers, grasses and trees.
Background about the Nature Wellness Trail
We first developed the Nature Wellness Trail to expand our outdoor wellness activities. The Trail utilizes the full 33-acres of Excelsior’s campus, providing the girls with extensive open space to explore and appreciate the outdoors. This 2/3 mile trail circles Excelsior’s campus and features ten exercise stations and five education stations integrating the various components of wellness. This structured “breathing room” gives our girls the freedom needed to be active and contemplative in a safe, open space. Additionally, the education stations along the Trail and Outdoor Classroom provide opportunities for the girls to learn outside the classroom. Students and teachers of the Excelsior school work together to brainstorm and identify five subject areas to showcase in the education stations, such as solar energy, cloud formation and the lifecycle of the ecosystem.
Marty Zaffaroni, Director of Business Development, spearheaded this project drawing from his own background in fitness. “The correlation between physical activity and mental health is remarkable; being active is essential for our girls’ mental health. Physical activity can help reduce stress, improve focus and enhance feelings of self-worth – all things that benefit our girls immensely and improve their chances for success.” Providing outdoor wellness activities can enhance learning, reduce stress, improve feelings of self-worth and empower our girls.
The Many Purposes of the Nature Wellness Trail
- School –The Education stations are used in classes, allowing the girls to take “mini field trips” throughout the day and engage in hands-on learning. The Outdoor Classroom provides teachers the opportunity to teach their students in a different environment which can improve their focus and enhance their learning.
- Physical Education Classes – PE teachers bring their students outdoors to walk the Trail and use the ten exercise stations. This allows the girls to engage in different types of physical activity and learn new exercise techniques.
- Individual Therapy – Complementing traditional therapy with physical activity is incredibly beneficial for our girls. It can help reduce stress and has even been proven as an effective method in treating depression – an illness from which many of our girls suffer.
- Family therapy – Many of our families use the Trail to walk and talk with their children when they come to visit. The Trail provides an open, comfortable environment for our girls and their families to reflect on their relationships and embrace change.
- Recreation – The Trail provides our girls additional outdoor recreational opportunities on campus. With the educational and exercise stations, our girls can explore, learn, and exercise outside of their cottages.
- Employees – Many Excelsior employees use the Trail on a daily basis for their own health and wellness. Like our girls, our employees often use physical activity as a tool for stress relief.
Overall, the Nature Wellness Trail enhances Excelsior’s value that states: We are here to serve and develop the mind, body and spirit of our youth, families and employees.
Our Nature Wellness Trail would not be possible without the outpouring of generosity and support we received from so many people. First, we would not have even dreamed of the project without generous grants we received from the Colorado Garden Foundation and the Colorado Health Foundation. The Colorado Garden Foundation first partnered with Excelsior five years ago to design and develop our Girl Sprouts Garden. In the past four years, they have contributed over $49,000 to the garden, outdoor classroom and Nature Wellness Trail. We are immensely grateful for their partnership.
We also owe huge thanks to architects Ken Ball and Becky Garber from Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado (ALCC), Bloom Floralscapes and Mallory Payson for the design of the Trail, Andrea and Jerry Hair from FastSigns, and of course, the incredible and devoted group of volunteers that nurture our Girl Sprouts Garden on almost a daily basis.