Too often I find myself frustrated and disheartened by the intolerance and hateful speech that has emerged from our current political landscape.
I’m provided with relief, however, every Sunday when I meet my friend Leslie on the Delaware & Raritan Canal towpath, where dozens of people of varying ages, ethnicities, and races are brought together by their love of nature and wellness.
To me, the D & R creates one of the prettiest parts of New Jersey. It twists through our heavily populated state, creating more than 50 miles of natural landscape that people from all over New Jersey use to walk, bike, canoe, and run. Leslie and I are regularly joined by a community of outdoor enthusiasts that mirrors New Jersey’s cultural stew pot of ethnic and religious diversity. There are cyclists and marathon trainers who meet to ride and run the trail, sharing water and injury stories. On warmer days, families, in canoes and kayaks, paddle down the canal from one of the many launch spots. And every Sunday, like clockwork, a fleet-footed East Asian man effortlessly runs by, as if he had wings. The parking area, a meeting spot where Mercer, Somerset, and Middlesex counties converge, becomes a place to catch up and engage in meaningful conversation.
We all come together for our health and enjoyment, creating a community of acceptance, admiration, and respect for nature and really — a respect for each other.
Good health often is considered the result of personal commitment, sacrifice and will power (strong genes don’t hurt either). Today unhealthy choices abound. We are surrounded by fast food options, bombarded by advertisements for junk food and often saddled with sedentary jobs. Remaining healthy requires swimming against the stream.
But my experience on the towpath reminds me that we can change the direction of the stream in big and small ways. In the 1970s, the people of New Jersey decided to turn the D & R Canal into a state park. Decades later, countless people are reaping the health benefits of that wise decision.
We can make decisions at every level in our society that will promote health well into the future.
At the Quality Institute, we know that decisions made at the local level can have great impact. Our Mayors Wellness Campaign is celebrating 10 years of supporting towns that find creative ways to encourage healthy living.
Through the years, we’ve seen countless examples of health and wellness bringing municipal residents together. Beachwood organizes community walks and free yoga on the beach (how cool is that!) and Jersey City provides healthy cooking classes for their community garden bounty. Our other 370+ mayors in the Mayors Wellness Campaign communities sponsor all types of wellness programs, from open community gardens, farmers markets, and ice-skating rinks. They also organize community races and create bike lanes and walking trails.
All these efforts promote health — and, equally important, they bring people together.
I am grateful for the personal connections and friendships I have made along the D & R Canal. The unifying quest for healthy living creates more than just stronger bodies. It also creates vibrant exchanges that highlight the diversity and richness of thought that exists in our state. Join me on Sunday or go on your own to see how you can play a role in improving yourself while also creating a stronger community.