Canada's 'biggest winter playground' offers a connection to nature

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Sure, cold temperatures and snow can be a deterrent to going outside during the winter, but it doesn’t mean you should hunker down indoors for the entire season.

In fact, Canadians are encouraged to spend time outdoors often so they can experience everything nature has to offer during the cold months. This is why the Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF) puts on its annual Below Zero campaign, offering a wide range of activities for people to remain active outdoors and stay connected to nature.

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SEE ALSO: Heading out on a nature walk? Bring this checklist along

David DeRocco, senior manager of marketing and events for CWF, told The Weather Network in a recent interview that Below Zero had its origins as an outdoor- and environment-focused educational initiative. CWF offered it to teachers looking for ways to connect youth to conservation issues during the winter.

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“We’ve since it expanded it in January and February because all Canadians living in the Great White North have to deal with winter. It’s a great opportunity for us to encourage people to experience what we call the ‘thrill of the chill,’” said DeRocco.

Canada’s 'biggest winter playground' offers a connection to nature
© Provided by The Weather Network (Canadian Wildlife Federation)

‘THRILL OF THE CHILL’ HELPS WITH MENTAL HEALTH

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To combat cabin fatigue, as part of the Below Zero campaign, the CWF has numerous ways for people to be more active including a list of 50 fun things to do outside including skating, snowshoeing and skiing, among others.

The theme of the initiative this year is “thrill of the chill,” DeRocco said. An important aspect of it is mental health and how important it is to get outside during the winter months.

“We’re really focused on the mental health aspects of getting outside in the winter. The thrill of the chill this year is really our way of saying, ‘hey, there is excitement outside in Canada’s biggest winter playground,'” said DeRocco.

During the winter months, many of us will “cocoon and isolate inside,” he said, noting it is particularly more common during rotating COVID lockdowns. One of the best ways to “change that mood and inspire yourself” is to get outside and connect with nature.

Canada’s 'biggest winter playground' offers a connection to nature
© Provided by The Weather Network (Canadian Wildlife Federation)

“The benefits of connecting directly with nature around the year are well documented,” said DeRocco.

“We’ve all experienced winter blues or cabin fever. All these are indicative signs of what is called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. It really is a biological condition that produces depression-like symptoms and it’s primarily caused by lack of exposure to natural sunlight and natural vitamin D.”

In 2020-21, CWF found that more people were engaging with nature to avoid staying indoors due to businesses being closed from the lockdowns, DeRocco explained.

“There’s so much space in Canada to do that, but particularly in January and February. That’s the focus of Below Zero. We know it’s cold outside…but you can still bundle up and get outside, and reap the benefits of connecting with nature,” said DeRocco.

FOUR KEY ELEMENTS TO BELOW ZERO

The CWF senior manager of marketing and events noted there are four “real key elements” to Below Zero.

Canada’s 'biggest winter playground' offers a connection to nature
© Provided by The Weather Network (CWF Reflections of Nature Photo Contest/Brittany Crossman)

  1. You can go outside and explore. “Parks are open, trees are bare, there is more opportunity to see birds [and other wildlife] that stick around.”
  2. Get outside and play
  3. Get creative, and pour water on the snow and create ice sculptures
  4. Becoming involved in citizen science

Regarding the fourth key element, which is on the CWF’s list of 50 activities, you can download the iNaturalist app at inaturalist.ca and use it to snap photos of wildlife, and share them with other Canadians and global scientists online to track biodiversity.

Canada’s 'biggest winter playground' offers a connection to nature
© Provided by The Weather Network (CWF Reflections of Nature Photo Contest/Serge Chenard)

“You can turn a winter hike into a citizen science activity where you download images of any wildlife you see and upload them into a working database that scientists around the world use to track biodiversity,” said DeRocco.

And if there is plenty of snow on the ground, don’t let that deter you from taking a hike through the forest. You can still enjoy the scenery and perhaps see some wildlife that you can take photos of, he said.

“The more you use your iNaturalist and develop that sort of nature connection, the more you want to do it. You start to realize you’re really contributing and becoming more aware of the world around you,” said DeRocco. “It’s a real simple thing to do but a meaningful way to connect with nature while contributing to real science.”

Thumbnail courtesy of Canadian Wildlife Federation.

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