Happy trails...healthy therapy

Nature can be a powerful source of healing for the mind, body, and spirit. Chad Thorson and Zach Goodwiler — both physical therapists with Asante Three Rivers Medical Center in Grants Pass — believe this so strongly that they devote many of their off hours to the Southern Oregon Trail Alliance, (SOTA) an organization they founded in 2017 with fellow outdoorsman, Eric Ball.

“We have treated many different people with a wide variety of ailments and injuries,” said Thorson. “These people have been from all walks of life. One common thread we’ve seen first-hand is the healing powers - both mental and physical - of exercise, specifically in the natural environment.”

On most outings, SOTA volunteers clear downed trees, build the occasional footbridge and maintain trails. Now, one of the alliance’s greatest accomplishments is building a healthier and happier community through Moai - Community Trail Hikes (pronounced mow-eye).

The Moai hikes were inspired by the Blue Zones Project-Grants Pass and are a partnership with SOTA, Blue Zones, Asante Rehabilitation Services and Asante Foundation.

“By encouraging people to move naturally, we’re helping them have a sense of purpose, reduce their stress and become part of a team of positive, healthy people,” Goodwiler added.

Exercise and a sense of community are key components of the Blue Zones Project-Grants Pass, which aims to build healthier communities through lifestyle and connections with others.

“A more active outdoor lifestyle has the potential to greatly improve health outcomes in ways that aren’t possible in a clinic setting,” Thorson added.

Besides the known physical benefits of hiking, the alliance hopes to recruit a botanist and hydrologist to inform hikers about the beautiful flora and fauna along the trails to address the mental benefits of hiking.

Goodwiler said SOTA volunteers are also hoping to make trail improvements for accessibility. “Currently there are very few options for people in wheelchairs, children, and the geriatric population in regard to going out on the trails. We want all people to enjoy the trails like we do.”

Asante is a primary sponsor of the Blue Zones Project in Grants Pass.