How the Adventure Therapy Project is Getting People Outside
Photo above: “The Cumberland Crusaders” running team took part in the Cabot Relay in Cape Breton in 2019.
The deaths of two good friends and a demanding job had Mike Hudson tying up his trail shoes and going for a long run to cope with his grief and stress. The more he ran outside, the better he felt. This reminded him of vacations with his wife, Ashley, and their two young daughters when they had no cell coverage or cable TV; they spent all day walking on the beach and sleeping soundly at night.
When he mentioned this to Ashley, she told him she’d noticed that her mood was affected if she was stuck inside too long.
“So we started hiking and spending more time at the beach, and we noticed a difference in our daughters’ behaviours, moods and sleeping patterns,” Mike said.
Ashley is an elementary school resource teacher in Oxford and Mike is a Community Outreach Worker with Schools Plus as well as a basketball coach. Working in schools has shown them how little kids get outside and explore, and how they benefit from being challenged.
“Most kids talk like they are living in a video game yet have no idea what it is like to take a walk in the woods, to go looking for rocks on the beach or to even lay in the grass and look at the stars,” Mike said.
The couple had two questions: How could they help spread awareness of the benefits of being outside? How could they help people get outside to reconnect with nature and fun?
In 2018, they came up with their answer: The Adventure Therapy Project. They incorporated the word ‘therapy’ into the name because of their experience with family members who cope with mental health issues using less than healthy or productive ways.
“It’s our attempt to get people outside in nature, too boost their mental and physical health,” explained Mike. “We live in a world full of screens and stress but we’re not telling people to throw away their phones and TVs and move into a hut in the woods. We’re simply hoping they get outside once or twice a week.”
The Adventure Therapy Project started with several youth programs during March Break in 2019, including a guided nature hike, a snowshoe walk, and a campfire. In early December, a day-long “survival skills” program taught kids how to build a shelter, make a fire, and filter water.
“We were worried it was going to be too long outside and too cold, because it was a whole day,” Mike said, “but at the end, the kids said, ‘We should do this overnight’.”
There were comments about ‘letting kids play with fire’ but he said the point of the program is to learn a new skill so there are steps to follow and safety rules.
“There’s that bit of risk which is good for kids so they learn to adapt and solve problems. We don’t let kids problem solve enough,” he added, “and we don’t give them enough credit for how well they problem solve.”
Ashley observed this when the participants were put into teams, given supplies then told to build a shelter. “Everyone’s shelter was different but they had an explanation for why they did the things they did.”
Both she and Mike are aware of the contrast of their childhoods – when
they spent all day outside playing – and their daughters’.
“How many times do we say ‘Be careful’ and ‘Don’t do that’ and ‘Watch what you’re doing’? So we’re not only inspiring kids, we’re inspiring parents as well to let them go out and play and get dirty,” she said.
The Adventure Therapy Project is about benefiting adults as well so Mike and Ashley have found ways to inspire the entire community. While getting outside is about getting away from TVs and videos games, they do use technology to reach out to people.
“We did a walk through the new bunny trail in Oxford and posted it online and now you see other people posting photos of walking the bunny trail,” said Mike.
They also put out a call for ambassadors, people who will wear The Adventure Therapy Project gear and post photos on social media of what they’re doing and where they’re doing it.
“We don’t realize how lucky we are,” Mike said. “Cumberland County is one of the most scenic areas. There’s so much to do. A lot of people don’t know what’s out there, so we try to highlight trails, waterfalls, and beaches.”
The reward for these two parents, however, is seeing the positive impact all this adventure therapy is having on their eight-year-old daughter.
“Aubree’s at the point where she self-copes,” explained Mike. “She’ll say she needs to go outside and do survival.”