Take care of your mental health this summer by cycling and hiking the Greenbelt

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As Toronto re-emerges from the third wave this summer, it’s more important than ever to keep our minds and bodies healthy. A recent survey conducted by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and the University of British Columbia (UBC) found that 40 per cent of Canadians said their mental health has deteriorated since the beginning of the pandemic last year.

“We’ve seen a significant rise in the numbers of people reporting symptoms of depression, anxiety and loneliness, as well as an increase in substance and alcohol use,” says Dr. Katy Kamkar, a clinical psychologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). Dr. Kamkar adds that it’s imperative to be proactive when dealing with stress, and according to an ongoing CAMH national survey, the number one way Canadians have handled the pandemic lockdowns is spending time outdoors.

Whether it’s hiking, jogging, cycling or even a light stretch, outdoor activity can contribute to a boosted immune system through Vitamin D, lessened anxiety, better sleep and higher self-esteem. Luckily, we have the Greenbelt. Surrounding the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the Greenbelt was founded in 2005 to protect some of Ontario’s most important farmland and vulnerable natural ecosystems.

“The Greenbelt Foundation works to bring communities and experts together to realize the Greenbelt’s full potential,” says Edward McDonnell, CEO, Greenbelt Foundation. “Ontario is incredibly fortunate to have the Greenbelt, which provides access to natural areas within Canada’s most developed region. With or without a pandemic, access to greenspace is just one of the many reasons that the Greenbelt’s continued preservation is critical.”

Explore the Greenbelt by cycling the Greenbelt Route, which offers 475 kilometres of connected marked trails that span the Greater Golden Horseshoe, from Northumberland to Niagara, and connect to the broader Great Lakes Waterfront Trail and even the Trans Canada Trail in the north. Ontario’s Greenbelt also has beautiful hiking trails, parks, and conservation areas, including 21 Greenbelt-protected urban river valleys, like the Humber River.

This summer, the Greenbelt Foundation is announcing a new project in partnership with Waterfront Regeneration Trust, the charity behind the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail and who partners with the Greenbelt Foundation on implementing the Greenbelt Route.The project will create six additional signed connector routes along the 1,200 kilometre Greenbelt-Lake Ontario Waterfront cycling loop, further linking the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail with the Greenbelt Route. Starting in 2021, new connectors will be in place at Peterborough and Clarington, with more connector routes to be explored in Orangeville, Duffins Creek and throughout the Greenbelt in 2022. As part of the project, local businesses will be participating in a pilot to enhance the cycling experience by installing bike racks in popular tourist attractions near the connectors.

“Getting out and enjoying these routes are excellent ways to shift your focus from challenging times to what’s just down the road or trail,” says David Meyer, Project Manager at Waterfront Regeneration Trust. “Ontarians of all skill levels can enjoy the physical and mental health benefits of cycling, enjoy a sense of accomplishment that a day or afternoon ride can provide, create positive memories, and experience the joy of discovering something new.”

“The last year has been stressful for a lot of people, and cycling, hiking, as well as other outdoor activities in near-urban nature has been so important for both individual and community health,” says McDonnell.

Here are four trails, cycling routes and outdoor activities in the Greenbelt to try this summer as Ontario reopens:

Photo Credit: Martin Lortz, 2020

Greenbelt Route

Spanning 475 kilometres of beautiful and protected countryside from Northumberland to Niagara, the Greenbelt Route winds through iconic landscapes like the picturesque Oak Ridges Moraine, and intersects lush, forested areas, rolling multicoloured agricultural land, and vibrant rural communities. It takes six or more days to cycle end to end and offers memorable experiences for cyclists of all skill levels, from the family-friendly Caledon Trailway to the more challenging climbs of the Niagara Escarpment.

Directions

Rouge National Urban Park

The largest park in North America, its various trails spread across the nearly 80-square kilometre area between Lake Ontario and the Oak Ridges Moraine. This notable national park within a city is rich in biodiversity and home to over 1,700 species of lush plants and animals, including 27 species-at-risk. Waterfront Generation Trust is currently working with Parks Canada on a new visitor and education centre in the park, as well as trail and beach improvements. The park is open year-round and has several points of entry that are accessible by car, train, bus, subway, bike and even canoe.

Directions

West Humber River Recreational Trail

Extending from Brampton’s Claireville Conservation Area into Rexdale, this 19-kilometre paved trail follows the heritage West Humber River and is open year-round to pedestrians and cyclists. The Humber River is protected as part of the Greenbelt’s Urban River Valleys and provides an urban home to a variety of native plants and wildlife. If you’re looking for a picturesque and accessible trail for your daily dose of activity or mindfulness, look no further.

Directions

Don River Brick Works Park

A former quarry, this revitalized park within the Don Valley contains Evergreen Brick Works, one of Toronto’s most popular tourist attractions. Since its revitalization, the park has attracted a variety of birds and animals to the restored ecosystem, which features breathtaking natural sites, hiking trails and board walks over a restored, picture perfect wetland area. The park, which can be accessed by foot, bicycle, car and TTC, is also a great launching point to walk trails north and south along the Don River.

Directions

If you plan on visiting any of these quaint trails or paths, please be respectful and refrain from littering or trespassing on neighbouring private property. To learn more about the Greenbelt and the Greenbelt Foundation, visit greenbelt.ca