The Tioga County Countryside Council, a work-group of the Tioga County Partnership for Community Health, held its 2009 Planning and Visioning meeting Tuesday, October 21, at ColtonPoint State Park. The meeting was held in a pavilion at a state park to help the participants break out of old habits of thought and spark creativity. A fire was build and a hot lunch was prepared. While enjoying the meal, the group put the finishing touches on its work.

After reading aloud the extensive Holistic Goal and Mission Statement, the participants realized that the commonly held belief that “Nature is a source of raw materials to be exploited” is so ingrained in our culture that we fail to notice its impact as a root cause of many environmental problems we face today.

The participants further realized that their mission for 2009 was totally audacious: to create an awakening to an understanding of “Nature is the foundation of all life.” As part of this mission, an experiential approach will be needed, one that will include physical movement, social contact, and learning. Walking outdoors in nature is a form of physical movement that is inclusive, so partnering with the existing “Step Outdoors” program of The Partnership was a natural next step. Social contact and learning are achieved through conversation and communication, and thus will be vital for people to learn about the various landscapes within the county. Hence the idea was born to create a series of “Walking Forums.” These forums will help people enjoy the outdoors by walking, enjoy social contact through participation in dialogs, and enjoy learning through presentations by naturalists and observations of nature.

In as much as there are four distinct seasons in Tioga County, four Walking Forums will be scheduled for 2009. It was easy to come up with four distinct environments within the county: streams and lakes, forests, farms, and towns. And then it was easy to ask what a meal of all local, seasonal food would look like in each of those seasons. The walking forums will have a conversational theme, an opportunity to meet other people and be recognized, a walk, and chance to eat seasonal food. The forums will be scheduled from 9:30 to 3:00 on four days of the year.

Taking a walk in each environment, together with a group of people that would include a conversation and a meal, will invigorate social dialog, awareness of our county, and our ultimate reliance upon the cycles of life that sustain us. In such a context, together with other people interested in increasing their health and local knowledge, the Walking Forum will be a real boon to the county’s attractiveness and sense of community cohesiveness.