GROTON -- Nashua River Watershed Association's Outdoor Wellness Walking program attracted 35 participants to the Nashua River Rail Trail for a 45-minute walk, kicking off the fall season Sept. 27.
Group walks will be led by NRWA program directors four days a week, at 8 a.m. on the Nashua River Rail Trail, meeting Monday in Ayer, Tuesday in Pepperell, Wednesday and Friday in Groton, through the winter. The walks are free and open to all ages.
Completed in 2002, the Nashua River Rail Trail runs along 11 miles of the former railroad line through Ayer, Groton, Pepperell and Dunstable and offers a varied landscape with opportunities to see wildlife along the way.
The idea for the program came to Elizabeth Ainsley Campbell, NRWA executive director, who said, "Offering regular short walks to the community provides an opportunity for those who might not go outside to walk and get in the habit of regular exercise and an opportunity to experience nature, as our staff guides will talk about flora and fauna along the trails."
The goal of the program is to help people develop the habit of taking regular walks, leading to improved health and well-being, while providing a positive environmental experience and introduction to the natural world.
Mary Marro, Environmental Education director, Stacey Chilcoat, river classroom director, and Al Futterman, Land Programs Outreach director, organized the program.
"We thought the blending of regular walks and nature talks -- public health and the environment -- was a good combination," said Futterman, who holds a master's degree in public health.
Wynne Treanor-Kvenvold, communications manager, said the program is funded in part by a grant from the Nashoba Valley Community Healthcare Fund and additionally supported by Nashoba Valley Medical Center in Ayer.
Gathered at the rail trail kiosk, participants received a free pedometer along with materials concerning exercise, diet and walking shoe information on the program's first day. Also included were USDA dietary guidelines, such as balancing calories and foods to increase and reduce to your diet.
NVMC staff Darcy Bussiere, RN, and Denise Moniz, RN, provided free blood-pressure screenings to participants before the walk.
Marro said NRWA will also be offering 11 Wellness Trail Walks in 11 different communities to introduce people to trails in their area. In addition, the NRWA has partnered with NVMC to offer a series of Healthy Lifestyles & Wellness lectures, workshops and films. The first lecture, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, is Oct. 23 at 6 p.m.
For some participants, walking with others is an important social aspect of the program. Chatting with friends old and new, the group, headed north along the trail for a 2-mile walk.