Taking it to the Trails

By Larry Archer | April 1, 2022
From Missouri Conservationist: April 2022
A group of bikes riding on a trail
Taking it to the Trails

Moving the workout outdoors

When St. Louis radio personality Jeff Burton came to a crossroads concerning his health, he saw two choices: “take a pill or take a hike.” He chose the hike, and in the words of poet Robert Frost, it “made all the difference.”

With a long history of health issues, beginning with the onset of Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease, in middle school that plagued him until his mid-40s, Burton, now 54, found relief when the Crohn’s went into remission, but soon found himself facing a new set of symptoms: migraines, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

“The Natural Thing”

With prescribed medicine and exercise, Burton’s recovery got off to a rocky start, he said. “I got an elliptical, I got on the pills,” he said. “I barely touched the elliptical, but I took the pills, and my numbers stayed the same.”

Dissatisfied with the poor initial response, he decided to modify his approach.

“I decided to not take the medicine and do the natural thing and get out and exercise,” he said. “And I’m not going to exercise on a treadmill or an elliptical in the beautiful gym right up the street. I just went out to the woods and started walking. It was beautiful. The physical was amazing, but the mental rewards are ridiculous.”

On the Trail with Eloise

Accompanied by his rottweiler-lab mix, Eloise, Burton began making regular visits to MDC’s Rockwoods Reservation in Wildwood and nearby conservation areas and state parks. The results were evident with his next visit to the doctor, where tests showed a decrease in both his blood pressure and cholesterol.

Unfortunately for Burton, while he found new life in the woods, he wasn’t out of the woods when it came to his health. In 2021, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. While a setback in his overall health and fitness journey, Burton still finds solace in nature to help him through the difficulties of chemotherapy.

“I might not be able to go as far, but once I’m out there, I can just sit down,” he said. “And if I’m going to be resting and relaxing, why not do it there. I can go lay in my bed and watch reruns of M*A*S*H, which I love, or I can sit on a rock or a freaking log in the woods. Where are you going to recharge your batteries better?”

Staying Centered

On any given spring or fall Thursday, it’s a good bet one would likely find Shawn Goetz marking the trails of Three Creeks Conservation Area (CA) near Columbia for that evening’s trail run. Goetz, 49, coordinates a regular trail race series for local runners, but trail running was also a lifesaver for him.

“I used to live a different life, and I got sober,” said Goetz, a heating, air conditioning, and ventilation salesman. “I started becoming active, but I didn’t have a community and I kind of longed for that. I started off being a road runner and then I found trails and a very small group of trail runners here in town.”

Trail running provides him with the opportunity to focus on all aspects of his health, including sobriety, he said.

“What am I doing if I’m out here hiking or running?” he said. “I’m clearing my mind. I’m focusing on my breathing. I realized that I’m meditating, I’m just moving while doing it.

“It really helps me with my spirituality, it helps me stay centered.”

“It’s Like Medicine”

Diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2014, Goetz was forced to cut back on his own running but has found satisfaction in helping others discover the joys of trail running. Before COVID, Goetz’s weekly races drew as many as 50 runners, including many first timers, and continues to draw 15–20.

“I think the best thing is getting people out here who would never have done something like this on their own,” he said.

And while he’s stepped away from the trail running at the level he once competed, he still looks to the outdoors to help with his continued recovery.

“It’s like medicine, just coming out here,” he said. “It really is.”

Yoga on the Move

Fitness coach Michelle Montague, 54, of Hermann, has coached clients in everything from their first 5K race to triathlon, but many mornings, you’re just as likely to see her leading yoga as you are to see her running hills.

As part of her coaching routine, Montague leads outdoor yoga everywhere from local wineries to the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River.

“Right now, I do yoga at Hermann Hill Winery on Saturday mornings, and I also have a class on Friday mornings that we’re calling ‘yoga on the move,’” she said. “Every week I go to a different location around town, so we’ll do it at the upper park, we’ll do it at the riverfront, we do it up on our property at the gym, we’ll do it out at Hermann Hill.”

An Open-Air Gym

Montague began her coaching career in the more traditional indoor settings, but it wasn’t long before she discovered the outdoor option, in part, from her clients.

“What I realized when I was running the business was that everyone around here loves to really be outside,” she said. “So, when the weather got nice, I would lose business unless I was pragmatic and came up with the ideas.”

Those ideas included training clients in endurance sports, including distance running and triathlon, swimming, paddle boarding, and yoga. Additionally, Montague has found new personal challenges on the water, participating in the MR 340 cross-state race on the Missouri River.

“So, over the past two years I’ve fallen in love with the river, once I got brave enough to go out there,” she said. “I just feel like between the Katy Trail and the river, the outdoors is just my open-air gym.”

From Wrestling to Whitewater

The outdoors wasn’t where Doug Long went to get fit; it was where he went to use the fitness he’d developed over a lifetime of competitive sports, including as a wrestler and wrestling coach.

“I’ve always been an athlete,” said Long, 68, of Chillicothe. “I’ve always lifted weights. Even when I was coaching wrestling, I was wrestling in some open meets, and then later on, I got into paddling as a whitewater kayaker, and then that led to mountain biking.”

Blazing Trails

Although his mountain biking has taken him to competitions around the country, his “home trail” is a short 13 miles northwest of Chillicothe in the 5,863-acre Poosey CA. Long knows these trails well because he helped build them. Since 2000, the Green Hills Trail Association, which he helped found, has constructed and continues to maintain 10 miles of mountain biking trails at Poosey CA.

Like Goetz, Long not only enjoys the time he spends on the trails he helped create, he takes satisfaction in creating something that draws others to the outdoors.

“We have people travel from all over the place,” he said. “It’s pretty cool because I’ll be riding, I’ll be out there doing work, and all of a sudden, somebody will come along. I’ve always stopped and asked them where they’re from because it’s interesting.”

Waiting in the Woods

While everyone’s health and fitness journey is different and should be tailored to his or her own needs and circumstances, Burton believes exposure to nature and the outdoors offers the broadest mental and physical benefits to the most people.

“I challenge anyone to have my situation to go out in the woods and not be better mentally, which leads to physically,” he said. “Your positive attitude is sitting out there waiting for you. It’s in the woods.”

Prescribing Nature

With children facing increasing rates of everything from obesity to depression, many pediatricians are writing prescriptions for an increasingly popular miracle drug: nature.

A growing number of pediatricians, working through the national program Park Rx America (parkrxamerica.org), are prescribing outdoor activities to their patients, said Dr. Maya Moody, president-elect of the Missouri Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“There’s a fair amount of research now coming out — solid, medical research — saying that nature really has a great effect on the body as far as lowering blood pressure and reducing stress and anxiety,” Dr. Moody said.

Park Rx America allows physicians to prescribe a determined amount of time or visits to a local park or conservation area. The program’s online park finder helps patients identify local outdoor opportunities and allows physicians to track patients’ outdoor visits and follow up via email.

“This is something that I’ve recommended for kids for years, but now it gives me a formal platform and an ability for me to check in with the kids and have the kids check in with me,” she said. “The Park Rx America system has it set up, if the parent is okay with it, I can either email or text them and then they’ll get text reminders.”

While many children get exercise through organized sports or indoor activities, getting outside in unstructured play has additional benefits, Dr. Moody said.

“What we know from medical research is that kids having unstructured play outside has cognitive benefits,” she said. “It helps their minds, their thinking, and their creative problem solving. It helps their peer interactions because it’s not a structured setting with an adult telling them what to do.”

Prescribing outdoor play for children also has benefits for the entire family, said Dr. Julie Bernard, a Cape Girardeau pediatrician.

“Really we’re encouraging families now to get outside and to be really active,” Dr. Bernard said. “I’ve seen some great results from families that are doing walks on the trail together or bike rides on the trail or spend their weekends at the park with the kids playing. And so, we’ve seen some good effects from really encouraging kids to get outside.”



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This Issue's Staff

Magazine Manager - Stephanie Thurber
Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Associate Editor - Larry Archer
Photography Editor - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Staff Writer – Dianne Van Dien
Designer - Shawn Carey
Designer - Marci Porter
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Circulation - Laura Scheuler