Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT)

Staff Spotlight: Holly Jo Walters, Director of the Trails, Spaces & Places (TSP) Certification Program

We are delighted to highlight Holly Jo Walters, the Program Director of the Trails, Spaces & Places (TSP) Certification Program.

Holly Jo comes to this work like many of us, steeped in her love for nature. Her journey to ANFT began in 2019 when she trained to be a guide and has been propelled throughout her career as a park ranger and Open Space Superintendent for a regional park and wildlife refuge along Colorado’s front range. During this time, she gained a deep understanding of the natural world and the delicate balance we share in relationship to it. With this knowledge, Holly Jo is committed to providing pathways of connection that inspire and transform while preserving and protecting our planet’s biodiversity and natural spaces.

Holly Jo is committed to supporting ANFT in redeveloping and expanding their certified forest therapy trails, spaces, and places program. Her main focus is to assist guides in acquiring the knowledge and skills needed to assess and evaluate trails, spaces, and places, ensuring they meet specific criteria related to ecosystem health, ease of access, safety, infrastructure, design considerations, and management. By following these guidelines, certified forest therapy trails and sites offer an optimal environment for experiencing the therapeutic benefits of nature, providing a consistent standard for both forest therapy practitioners and participants.

In addition to guiding guides, Holly Jo supports land managers. She takes pride in providing comprehensive information about the ANFT program, acquainting land managers with the intricate processes, criteria, qualifications and necessary resources, making the certification journey a seamless and enriching experience.

Driven by a profound sense of service, Holly Jo stands ready to assist anyone for whom trail or site certification becomes a powerful tool in promoting forest therapy. Whether it’s helping individuals or organizations, her goal is to contribute to the broader mission of enhancing well-being through the restorative power of nature.

Holly Jo, tell us how you first got involved with Nature Therapy.

My journey into Nature and Forest Therapy began at a women’s wilderness retreat in the woods of upstate New York in early 2019. I had been attending various retreats all over out of a desire to find belonging and community. During the retreat, I connected with Tam Wiley, who was leading a forest bathing walk that afternoon. Although I couldn’t join the walk (I had signed up for another workshop in advance), Tam’s description of the practice struck a chord within me, as did the passion with which they shared their story. I immediately started looking for information about forest bathing when I returned home. This eventually led my way to the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy. This marked the start of a profound journey for me which has ultimately led me here.

What is a particularly special memory from your time as a park ranger?

I have so many incredibly special memories and it makes it really challenging to pick just one. But one of the projects I’m most proud to have participated in was having a live wildlife camera installed at the regional park and wildlife refuge where I worked. We had a nesting pair of bald eagles at the park and the nest they utilized had been active and in use for over two decades. The camera allowed everyone to finally watch, in a very intimate way, the daily goings on in the lives of these eagles. It really engaged the community in a way that we hadn’t expected. The camera brought so much awareness to how special our relationships with nature can be and it helped build a very supportive and engaged community of advocates and supporters for the park. It was really a beautiful experience for us all.

What are you most excited about with the Certified Forest Therapy Trails, Spaces & Places program

Right now, I am most excited about the fact that it’s “go” time! The trails certification program had been on hiatus for some time but interest in the program did not wane so there is a significant number of individuals and organizations seeking and needing support in their desire to participate in this program.

I am excited for ANFT guides because this program offers an opportunity to easily identify and access trails, spaces and places that have been thoroughly assessed and evaluated to ensure the site meets specific criteria related to ecosystem health, ease of access, safety, infrastructure, design considerations, and management. These criteria provide a consistent standard for both forest therapy practitioners and participants alike.

I am excited for land managers because this is an opportunity for them to partner with ANFT, learn about and support forest therapy, and engage the public in new and innovative ways while encouraging them to explore their relationship with nature.

What would you tell someone interested in being an ANFT Trails, Spaces & Places (TSP) Certification Consultant?

If you are passionate about forest therapy and are seeking additional ways to support others in providing pathways of connection, you may want to consider becoming an ANFT TSP Certification Consultant.

The primary role of the ANFT TSP Certification Consultant is to guide and support the land manager through the certification process. As an ANFT TSP Certification Consultant, you provide a necessary service by assessing specific natural areas and sites to determine if they meet the certification standards established by the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy. Certification consultants are responsible for documenting the site and providing recommendations for improvements and/or modifications, where necessary. In addition, ANFT TSP Certification Consultants provide the land manager with Forest Therapy invitation guidance to be utilized on signs or self-guide brochures to support Forest Therapy experiences where guides are not available or present.

Currently, there is a high level of interest from land managers seeking certification, and our capacity to support them with consultants is limited. If you are interested in this work, please reach out to me directly.

Do you have a favorite invitation you like to share when you guide?

I don’t have just one invitation that I could say is my favorite, but this is one that dropped in the other day when I was out on a solo saunter in the snow – Hibernating Senses. I’d like to invite you to wander out with all your senses……except one. For this invitation, I’m going to invite you to hibernate just one of your senses.

For example, you may choose to “hibernate” your sight and you may find yourself sitting on the forest floor, and with your eyes closed, touching and feeling around you. Or perhaps you decide to hibernate sound…so wandering through the forest with your ears covered or plugged in some way. Wander out, and explore this place with one of your senses in hibernation.

Upcoming  Q&A Calls for the Trails, Spaces & Places (TSP) Certification Program

For those interested in becoming an ANFT Trails, Spaces & Places (TSP) Certification Consultant, Holly Jo encourages passionate individuals to consider this role as a means of supporting others in providing pathways of connection. The role involves guiding land managers through the certification process, assessing natural areas, and offering recommendations for improvements.

Holly Jo extends an invitation to join an upcoming Q&A call scheduled for February, providing an opportunity to learn more about the Certified Forest Therapy Trails, Spaces & Places program. Whether you are an aspiring consultant, a land manager, or simply curious about the program, these calls offer valuable insights and a chance to engage with the ANFT community.

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