It looked like every piece of outdoor equipment had been sold out of the store. The bikes were gone. The tents were gone. Sleeping bags were missing, guns sold out. Even hammocks were sold out.

I hadn’t been shopping for anything but essentials in a long time, so I was taken aback by how almost anything to do with getting outside was sold out. Some of it is, I’m sure, due to complicated supply chains that have been impacted by COVID-19. Deep down, though, I hoped that people were turning to the outdoors as a safe place to hang out and do things when other things were shut down.

It made me smile. Getting outside is important for your physical and emotional health, as study after study has proven. It was good to see that perhaps more people were getting outside.

I was in the store to grab a bottle of fuel for our camping stove before our upcoming weekend trip to the Allegheny National Forest. We have a favorite campsite in a favorite campground that sits off the beaten path and has never had people in more than a quarter of the campsites.

For the first time, it was a challenge to reserve our favorite spot and we had to shift our camping plans from a Friday-Sunday trip to a Saturday – Monday trip to get the site we wanted. Looking back, that should have been a foreshadowing of what was to come.

Campgrounds and other outdoor places seem more crowded as people reconnect with nature and other forms of entertainment are closed.

The campground, normally quiet, was overflowing with people. Most, if not all, of the sites were full. There were families, bikers, boaters, kayakers, hikers, and outdoor enthusiasts of all ages, from crying toddlers tenting for the first time to grizzled camping veterans whose campsites looked like a slice of home in the woods.

The full campground caused a harsh reaction deep in my gut. My first reaction was “Where did all these people come from? This is SO busy.” We have been camping at that campground for more than a decade and never, ever seen so many people there. It felt weirdly wrong to have to share the campground with so many people, as if they were trespassing on our vacation.

I was thrilled that all the camping gear was sold out in stores, but I hadn’t expected to have to share my campground with the people who bought it. That may be wrong, obviously those campsites are there for a reason, but my initial instinct was to not like the crowded campground at all.

My second reaction was amazement. This many people had never filled the campground before and, even with so many people, it was quiet. Some of the things that have ruined other camping trips, like blasting music, barking dogs, and fireworks in the wee hours, never happened. It was exciting to see so many people reconnecting to nature.

In a time when so many things are closed, nature is always open. I long ago learned that time outside was essential for me to be happy. In college, I would take my notes and study outside. When I worked in a city, my lunch breaks would be wanderings through the downtown parks with Chinese takeout. For me, getting outside is important if I want to stay grounded, focused and happy. I am not the only one.

In an article on the importance of getting outside published by the University of Washington, researchers said basically the same thing.

“Studies have proven that even the smallest bit of nature — a single tree, a small patch of flowers, a house plant — can generate health benefits,” said Kathleen Wolf, a UW research social scientist in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. “Look closely in your neighborhood, and the bit of nature you may have taken for granted up until now may become the focus of your attention and help you feel better.”

One study, reported in the journal Nature, stated “living in greener urban areas is associated with lower probabilities of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, asthma hospitalization, mental distress and ultimately mortality, among adults; and lower risks of obesity and myopia in children. Greater quantities of neighborhood nature are also associated with better self-reported health, and subjective well-being in adults, and improved birth outcomes, and cognitive development, in children.”

Spending two hours or more a week outside is essential for your health, according to a study in the journal Nature. Photo by Jeff Tome

That’s a long, fancy way of saying that getting outside in a natural setting for a couple of hours every week is good for you, with health benefits that can be measured in both children and adults.

Getting people outside is a big part of what Audubon Community Nature Center encourages. Not only are there countless benefits to getting outside in an emotional and physical way, but you can’t learn about or care about a planet that you only experience through a TV screen or a window.

Make it a goal to spend two hours outside this week. That is the threshold where health benefits start to become measurable. Two hours can mean 15 to 20 minutes a day, drinking coffee in the backyard or gardening, or a couple of hikes or bike rides.

Do it for your health and your family’s health. Outside time is important.

Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are still open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. Though the Nature Center is currently closed, including restrooms, due to COVID-19 restrictions, drive-thru sales are available from the Blue Heron Gift Shop and Day Camps are open. More information can be found online at or by calling (716) 569-2345.