Mercy Tiffin creates nature preserve to foster community wellness

November 15, 2012

Woods provide mating habitat for endangered species of bats

"Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books, for they speak with the voice of God."
— George Washington Carver

The close connection between the natural world and both physical and spiritual well-being has been noted in the past by celebrated American authors, naturalists and poets like John Muir, Joyce Kilmer, Henry David Thoreau and Robert Frost.

Today the symbiotic relationship between nature and healing is commonly acknowledged by many in the hospital community as well, with designs incorporating expansive views of sky and field, and gardens for reflection and rejuvenation. At the same time, a growing emphasis on disease prevention and community wellness has health care leaders thinking expansively and collaboratively about the interplay of the built and natural environments and their impact on community health status.

Mercy Tiffin Hospital — a Catholic Health Partners facility located in Seneca County, Ohio, halfway between Toledo and Cleveland — has dovetailed its aspirations to create both healing environments and community collaboration by designating a portion of its campus to be used as a community nature preserve complete with hiking trails, footbridges and, eventually, physical fitness stations and educational programs.

"As a faith-based organization serving all denominations, we want to promote a holistic approach to health and wellness, and we see nature as a strong component of serenity and physical well-being," says Charles Ervin, senior director of facilities and campus planning at Mercy Tiffin. "There is philosophical as well as empirical evidence associated with the benefits of walking in the woods."

Good citizenship
To that end, last summer the hospital formally partnered with the Seneca County Park Board to create the Mercy Community Nature Preserve on 20-plus wooded acres of hospital property. The preserve, protected by a 20-year renewable lease, will be maintained with the help of the Tiffin Charitable Foundation, which is providing initial grants to allow for infrastructure development as well.

Though the nature preserve was formally established just a few months ago, the idea of setting aside part of the hospital's 140-acre campus as an undisturbed, wooded area dates back to 2005, says Ervin.

"When we purchased the property for our new campus we developed a master plan that identified two separate components. One was a roughly 60-acre clinical campus, with a new hospital, medical office building, outpatient dialysis center and other clinical services. The other 80 acres were set aside for future wellness-related programming, including independent/assisted living facilities, a wellness center and a wooded lot with naturally occurring trails and wildlife for community use," says Ervin.

Says Dale Thornton, president and chief executive of Mercy Tiffin, "We are dedicated to promoting wellness in the community, and feel that the development of this nature preserve will provide residents of Tiffin and Seneca County with an additional wellness venue."

Indiana bats
While the clinical campus opened in 2008, most of the remaining acreage is still leased agricultural land. The hospital is hoping to mark its centennial year in Tiffin — a community of 18,000 — with a grand opening of the nature preserve next spring, perhaps on Earth Day.

Initial surveys show that the preserve is home to many small mammals as well as deer. Because it is situated on the outer boundaries of the Black Swamp — 45 minutes from Lake Erie — it has ravines and low-lying wetlands populated by amphibious life and migratory birds. Flora includes ash, maple, oak and birch trees as well as deciduous trees, ferns, jack-in-the-pulpits and more. Perhaps most important, it is a habitat for endangered Indiana bats who nest at night in den trees during mating season.

"This is such a beautiful amenity; we are hoping to promote nature appreciation as well as fitness programs for children and the community at large," says Ervin. "By this time next year, we will have trail maps, brochures and a website about the nature preserve. We also envision a fitness track on an adjacent part of the campus, physical fitness stations and a walking path to the nature preserve. In the wooded area, we have already begun to mark a primary one-mile circular trail with spur trails, the majority of which will be accessible to those with special needs."

Ervin emphasizes that though Mercy Tiffin is a partner in the nature preserve, it is very much a community project, with a volunteer oversight committee and support from groups of hospital employees, Eagle Scouts and more.

"We hope the nature preserve will help us promote physical fitness through outdoor exercise, provide a peaceful place for spiritual well-being, offer a way to study the environment and position us as a leader in the community from a health and wellness perspective," says Ervin.


I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Joyce Kilmer, 1886 – 1918


Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.