Where do politics, spiritual renewal, public health, cultural evolution and Big Money all come together? That’s right, in public lands and green spaces!
During covid, millions of people are seeking the soothing effects of forests, beaches and rivers. Parks are super popular with families and individuals camping, picnicking, hiking, biking, fishing - and forest bathing. The crisis reveals how absolutely essential good public green spaces are for the wellbeing of all.
If you’ve doubted that regular people actually have a say about protecting and cultivating these sacred resources, Toby Bloom has very good news for you. She lives and works very close to the pulse of US conservation politics and her message is empowering: Thanks to everyone who has signed a petition, voted or expressed their voice about conserving public green spaces - you have been heard, and now everyone benefits!
A native of the DC Metropolitan area, Toby Bloom is the National Program Manager for Tourism and Interpretive Services for the US Forest Service. Some of the current Forest Service initiatives she leads are the development of the National Forest Explorer Mobile App; strengthening recreation economies in forest gateway communities; promoting healthy people and forests through innovative public lands and public health partnerships; and working with Interpretive Associations to improve visitor experience and appreciation of the National Forests. Toby was previously the Latin America and Caribbean Program Specialist for the International Programs division of the Forest Service. Before joining the USFS, she developed community ecotourism projects in high biodiversity areas of Latin America and the Caribbean as the Director of Wildlife Ecotourism for Humane Society International, as a technical expert for USAID in Honduras, and in several other consultancies in the region. Toby started her career in recreation and tourism as a tour guide through the US, Canada, and Mexico. Ms Bloom received her master’s degree in Sustainable International Development from Brandeis University. She became a certified Forest and Nature Therapy Guide in January of 2019. Please visit her website at
Pamela: Forest trails, open Meadows, rivers, city parks. Nature is our grade shared sanctuary during covid. Not only can we exercise here and take a much needed break from being indoors? It's also the one place apart from zoom, where we can gather safely and spend time with friends and loved ones. If anyone doubts that regular people actually have a say in how we protect and cultivate these sacred resources that belong to all of us. This episode brings an empowering message for you
Welcome to episode nine , I'm your host Pamela Wirth. Today, I'm very excited and honored to be talking with my guest, Toby bloom. As the national program manager for tourism and interpretive services for the US forest service She works and lives very close to the pulse of political decision making in Washington, DC. And she's also a devoted harbinger of good news about nature
Pamela: Hi Toby thank you so much for joining us today. I'm so excited to have you with us on the podcast.
Toby: Well, I'm thrilled to be here and I'm really appreciative that we get a chance to chat about all of these interesting things and. Coming together, politics, social justice, environmental justice, and forest bathing. They all overlap.
Pamela: They really all overlap. And it's so incredible. This is why I'm so excited to talk with you because you really are a person who has this really wide perspective and you bring all these worlds together. And that really brings me to my first question, which is, you're, I think you were the first person to become a forest therapy guide and the us forest service.
And in the meantime, a lot of your colleagues have followed you and are either in training or have become certified. And what's that like, how do these two worlds blend together?
Toby: Well, yes, I didn't realize it at the time, but indeed. Yeah. I was the first US forest service employee to also become a certified forest bathing guide.
And I mean, the reason I work for the forest service is because I know that being in nature feels good to me and being the national program manager for tourism and interpretation, my job is to help people also access that feel good that you get from being in the forest.
Toby: And so while I work a lot on infrastructure and policy in my regular job, it's really just about the emotional and spiritual feelings that I get when I'm in the forest. And when I heard about forest bathing as a practice and becoming a certified guide, I think this is something that's common to a lot of guides or a lot of people that go on forest bathing walks for the first time.
When you hear about what the practice is, and when you hear about what it does for you, it rings true. I was already somebody who sought out nature in order to relax and renew. And when I have tough things to think through, I go to nature and I go for a walk or I sit. And so being able to bring that practice to other people, not just through my work at the forest service, but also serving the local community.
Toby: It just seemed like a natural fit. And so I was really excited to be able to do that. And I had a few other colleagues who were on the cutting edge and followed right behind me. And, they were also both, you know, big, big reasons why forest bathing has become kind of an interesting and, and important practice for us in the forest service.
we even co-sponsored a training of forest bathing guides, certified forest bathing guides in Puerto Rico in November of 2019. And I'm still working with those trainees as a mentor. And so we really want to spread the practice, through as many communities as we can because the forest is a place for renewal.
Toby: And this is just one more tool in our toolbox of how to help people, access those really healing and beautiful spiritual qualities of the forest. Hmm.
Pamela: That is so wonderful to hear truly. And you know, when we. talked a little bit about our interview. a few days ago, you mentioned that you have some really good news to share about the political arena, about some recent developments there, you talked about the great outdoors act and that's more about that.
Toby: Well, really interesting bill. when we met at the, when we were all at the, the conference, the first annual conference last July, I was talking about the Dingle act, which was a big public lands bill that did some wonderful things for conservation and people really surprised, but it really is this awakening, not just recreationally, but on the political front about the importance of recreation and public green spaces and people's, ability to get outside.
and it's not just about spiritual renewal. What obviously always gets the attention of our political scene is what are the financial benefits. And finally, a study had been done just a few years ago, at the urging of several of our federal land and water management agencies to really quantify how much do Americans spend on outdoor recreation.
Toby: And so we got this, we got this study done and it turns out that that's one of the largest industrial sectors in the country. It brings in about as much money as pharmaceuticals, or, telecommunications. So, when you think about the scope of those industries, you understand how important recreation is.
And so the ball really started rolling politically on making sure that we're protecting these places and we're giving people the ability to get outside. And the interesting thing about that, the outdoors is that it is a bipartisan issue. We have support on both sides of the aisle. it doesn't matter what your political bent is.
You understand the importance of nature and whether you're a Hunter or you're a tree hugger or you're both or something else, everybody gets it. And I think intuitively we all, most of us have a connection to the outdoors. And so just recently in the midst of covid and sort of the outside being pretty much the only safe place for us to be, and really kind of, you know, some exercise and, and rest and relax and renew.
Just a couple of Tuesdays ago, the president signed a bill that was cosponsored by both Democrats and Republicans called the great American outdoors act. And what this bill did was it provided billions of dollars to repair all of the sort of rundown infrastructure in our public lands and waters in the United States.
Toby: And so. At least in the forest service, we're going to be getting 285 million over five years. And we're only getting 15, 18% of the money, a big part of it, about 70% is going to the park service. And then the other 15% is going to some of the other federal land man management agencies. And so that money is going to be used to fix visitor centers, signs, interpretives, telling you why these places are important and how they came about.
It's going to be fixing our campgrounds. It's going to be updating our RV hookups and our other, like our RV campgrounds, basically anywhere where we have recreation infrastructure that enables people to come and enjoy our national forests and national parks, wildlife refuges. Those are going to be getting a major facelift over the next five years.
So that's a really exciting part of the bill. And then the other half of the bill focused on the land and water conservation fund. Which is a bill that was enacted back in the 1960s. And it is a recognition of the fact that the oil and gas resources that we have in this country really belong to all of us.
They don't belong to Exxon. They don't belong to BP. They belong to us, the American people. And so because all of the gas and oil companies make money off of those resources. We as Americans have a right to get some of those resources back. And that's what it's, it is what the land and water conservation fund is about.
It's all oil and gas royalties that go back into public lands and waters all through the United States. And every single County in the United States gets a chunk of that money. Now, the maximum that that bill could be funded when it was put into law was 450 million a year. And that has never happened.
And just a few short years ago in Congress, the Republicans were trying to sunset this act, trying to get rid of the land and water conservation fund. But like I said, over the past few years with this growing awareness of the importance of the outdoors for everybody Republicans, Democrats, and everybody in between.
The tune is starting to change. And so, this bill established full funding. So that means forever and ever as long as oil and gas companies are getting royalty from drilling, and, you know, offshore drilling and any other resources that that money will be going to protect our public lands.
And so that can be anything from a baseball field, at your local neighborhood park all the way up to a national park. And so it really does benefit everybody. So that's the great American outdoors act. you may have missed it if you weren't paying attention closely to the environmental news, but indeed it is one of the most impactful bills in this century that has to do with protecting our public lands.
So really exciting.
Pamela: That's really exciting. And so how you just said baseball fields, for example. So how else, what can we expect? Like regular people just living in towns and cities? How will this affect us?
Toby: Well, I mean, this is a real opportunity for folks to get involved in your local politics. If you have a park that needs to be cleaned up.
Or you have an area that you would like to turn into a park, or you would like infrastructure added to a park in your neighborhood. You should write to your local representatives because they have access to these funds and your proposal very easily could turn into a project. And if you get a few signatures on your proposal, it becomes even more important.
And that's how small parks across this country really are built. They are usually the idea of somebody in the community. And that person is able to get enough interest from other community members to get those parks sanctioned and built. And now there will be so much more money in state and municipal governments to do these parks and make other green spaces for people that you know, it really is a good time if you've never been active before to kind of dip your toe in the water and see if you can make some difference and put some more green space on the map.
Pamela: Very inspiring. Yeah.
Toby: Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, it's, it can be intimidating. A lot of people, you know, think politics is confusing or it's not for you or politics can be dirty. But we are politics and not engaging in politics is just as powerful as engaging. And so I guess, you know, I really encourage people to just do any small thing that you can, you know, if you have something in your community that you want to happen, be the change, be the person that brings it to the board, you know, to your County council or whoever it is that runs your area and let them know.
I know that you want that to happen. All of these bills that we've been talking about happen. Because politicians, constituents speak out and say that they want these lands protected. And so if you can be a part of that, you're making a difference.
Pamela: That's what I love so much about your message also that you were sharing last year at our conference, which is our voices are being heard.
We're actually being heard. I think a lot of us walk around thinking, oh I'm just letting go, it doesn't make any sense anyways, but listening to you, I always just feel so incredibly encouraged and empowered to get involved and to actually do it because stuff is happening all the time.
That really makes a big difference. And it's because regular people have spoken about it and have been active about it.
Toby: 100%, 100%. And I mean, if you didn't know that before with all of the current events that are going on, I think everybody's eyes are open to the fact that you can make a difference
Pamela: and especially, it seems especially important right now, during covid because so many more people are really utilizing the public spaces. What are you seeing in DC …because you have a lot of parks there.
Toby: Yes. We have a ton of parks. Our parks are, have always been very well loved and well used, but Now, every green space is used so well and is loved so well, there are people everywhere. I live close to, there are traffic circles all through DC.
It's kind of one of the, the love, hate relationships that people in DC have with the town is that this city was built kind of by a French architect. And so he designed the city to kind of look like Paris. And so we have all of these traffic circles and two of the largest traffic circles in DC are right around the corner from my house.
And I mean, you know, there it's big enough that it's, I would say a baseball field since we're going with that. And so each of those circles every day is full of people with their kids. Now that it's back to school, I'm seeing some more organized groups of young children with instructors. Those spaces are being used.
Rock Creek park, which is our fantastic national park unit here, right in the middle of Washington, DC. We have a huge forest, that park is always busy and they actually have extended the parts of the park that are close to traffic on the weekends and are only open to pedestrians and recreationists.
More of those spaces are close to vehicles now and open to pedestrians. And so there really has been not just in DC, but all over the country, this renewed focus on giving people a place to go outside, not obviously working for the forest service. When covid had started, I was on a temporary assignment as the Director of Recreation for Arizona and New Mexico for all of the forests, two states and that's about 22 million acres. And we immediately, you know, when things got shut down, people stayed home, but people needed to get outside. And so what we started seeing immediately was over capacity use at all of our sites. And so we have this struggle of, we want everybody to be outside and we want everybody to use public lands.
But in this time of covid, we also need people to social distance, but it is fascinating to see that everybody is going outside. The wonderful thing. I think what happens when you go outside, if you're not, not an outdoor person or an outdoorsy person, is that your body and your brain remember that that's where you come from.
I mean, just instinctively as human beings. And so I think there's, there's a much bigger thing happening inside your brain and your physical body when you go outside than just kind of breathing fresh air. and of course, you know, that's one of the reasons that we do forest bathing in the first place.
But I do think that there's sort of this kind of archetypal remembering that we, as a species, are doing at this moment, when we're all going outside together. It's pretty incredible.
Pamela: Yeah. And it really affects all of us. All people are going out into nature right now. You know, it brings me to another point that we were talking about earlier.
You were sharing with me that there's kind of a developing understanding that the approach to conservation is changing, that it was started in the US during the time of John Muir, from one pretty narrow perspective, and that it is really expanding to welcome all traditions into this new approach of being in nature and conserving nature and our public lands.
Pamela: Could you talk more about that?
Toby: Yeah, certainly. I, you know, I, I, we talked about how, at least, for me, and I think for people that, that feel like they are somewhat spiritual, we're thinking about, what is the bigger meaning of what's going on right now of sort of dealing with covid. And then on top of that, dealing with the racial injustice issues and George Floyd's death, and so many others that we're finally addressing now, and systemic racism is tough to address because it's not usually overt racism where someone uses a racial slur or somebody is intentionally left out because of the color of their skin. But because our conservation model in the United States was developed at a time where really it was mostly white males that were getting out and doing these things that we think of as being outdoorsy now.
But that was really the focus. And, it's very tradition based and those traditions have been carried from generation to generation. but our country has really evolved. We are a rainbow of different people. We are different ethnicities. We have different beliefs and value systems. We speak different languages.
And so, our view of conservation and our view of how we use our public lands and green spaces really needs to evolve as well. And this is an issue that we've always talked about. And I think, this moment, where we really are thinking a lot more about systemic racism and those of us that are in a position, maybe influence that for them better and change the way things are done.
At least for me, for the first time, I feel like there is space and there is an opportunity for me to help make that change within my organization. And the forest service has been around since 1905. So when you talk about a long-standing culture, I mean, it's one of the oldest agencies in the country.
And so, you know, evolving that culture and not just in our agency, but just in the way that we approach conservation and, and, you know, outdoor ethics in general in the United States, things are changing. And I think that. You know, just as the protests have given us a space to really talk about how we do things better and to start implementing that we're also doing on the conservation front.
So although none of us would have wanted any of these things to happen in the first place, at least we are benefiting from these events and really kind of, I think, evolving. So. We're we're making lemonade, you know?
Pamela: Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, we're, we're calling this episode, Becoming a Happy Warrior and that's very much who you are and what does it mean to be a happy warrior and to become a happy warrior?
Toby: Well, first of all, I can't, I did not make up that phrase. I'm sure I heard it somewhere else, but it really does embody who I am. I feel like I'm making a difference and you know, John Lewis passing away and he talked about good trouble. That's what it's about. It's about causing good trouble, you know, what is right is not always legal and what is legal is not always right.
And I find myself in a position where I can influence policy and I can influence how people access national forest and public lands. And so I, and I also have a loud voice figuratively and literally, and so I use it to speak up quite a bit. and you know, it is not about, You know, stirring the pot and it's not about causing problems.
It's about trying to drive reality towards what I think it should be. And what that means is I will not miss an opportunity to speak up for my colleagues. I won't miss an opportunity to make sure that people of different races are represented on a panel. I won't miss an opportunity to make sure that the Native American tribes that I work with are involved in any policy review that we do at the school.
And so, I, I am always trying to take an opportunity to make things a little bit better, and I'm sure everybody knows that, you know, when you go with the flow, things are a lot easier and, and you don't stick out and. But that's, that's not how you make change.
I mean, there are how many different, phrases and quotes and things out there about, if you're quiet, you're not making change. you know, what is it? Quiet women rarely make history. Well. So I would like to make some history. I want to change things for the better. So things like that and, you know, there's one other that I always sort of think to myself, which is, the only way never have anybody be angry at you is to not do anything important.
Pamela: Oh, wow. Well behaved women rarely make history.
Toby: Yes, that's it. Thank you. It's about spreading joy. That's what being a forest bathing guide is about for me. And I really try to do that in my work as well, but that's not to say that I go with the flow. I definitely will take opportunities to make a difference if I can.
And I think that it gives you a sense of importance in your life. Even if it's not something that you do in your normal work every day, if you go out and you make your opinions known, you're making a difference. And so that, that is being a happy warrior.
Pamela: thank you so much for being you and for doing this incredible work, which is really to the benefit of, of everyone.
Toby: I appreciate that. I don't really know any other way to be, so s
Pamela: That's just awesome. And is there something that you can, I always ask my guests, if there's one simple thing that you can share that people can do easily, to experience that, to be a happy warrior, what, what can anybody do?
Toby: Well, I think the number one thing is to vote. you are a happy warrior if you are making your opinions known by voting. and this is not just about presidential elections. This is about every time that you have an opportunity to vote, to make your opinion part of the story, you should do it. and chances are, you know, when you lead out on these kinds of things, where you set an example, for what you want to see in nature and how you want to see our green spaces and our water air water spaces in this country manage, you're inspiring other people to do the same thing.
So I say, vote and be active in politics and show mother earth that you love her by putting your money where your mouth is, and really getting out there. And, you know, impacting policy and introducing other groups to nature. Like I said, you know, in this country, we, we have a tendency to favor white male opinions and anything that you can do to disrupt that.
You can lead, you know, minority groups, on forest bathing walks. That would be great. I will never forget my very first walk. was a bilingual walk in both English and Spanish. And I had 26 participants. the youngest was age four and the oldest was age 65.
Toby: And so I, you know, it really was such a mixed bag and what a blessing to be able to help that many different people to really love nature. And it was fascinating. I mean, you know, from my first walk, I think all of us when we become guides or when we're in our practicum, you have a little bit of doubt in yourself and you have a little bit of doubt in the process.
Is it really going to work? Is it really going to feel as good as it felt? You know, when I was in my practicum and all of us tree huggers were together, really feeling it, you know, is it really going to be like that when we get the public out there and it does. And it was such a wonderful feeling to realize that it wasn't just me and it wasn't just our group.
It's everybody, it's all human beings, regardless of the language they speak or their skin color or how they were raised, we all have that connection. And the more that we can do to solidify that connection for everybody, the better off we'll be.
Pamela: And are you currently guiding?
Toby: I am. I actually just guided on Saturday, you know, I have really been super appreciative of the virtual, forest bathing. I think it's a wonderful opportunity, you know, when we're kind of isolated for folks to really get together. It has not been my thing, I am not a technologically leaning person. but I have been able to give a couple of in-person walks.
And so on Saturday of this week, I was able to lead a walk for two people. We were socially distant and we were able to get on a trail and rock Creek park that was not very populated. And it was fantastic. We had two young bucks that were sort of following us around on the trail then during our tea ceremony, A butterfly sort of flew down into our tea ceremony.
I think she was probably fooled by my brightly colored scarf that was on the ground, but it was really lovely. And you know, it's always a nice reminder, even in these times of, of, you know, kind of doing things new and, and not knowing what's coming tomorrow, it was really lovely to get back to the practice and, and my two participants were blown away.
They loved it, so that was great.
Pamela: That's wonderful. Where can people find you if they want to go on a walk with you?
Toby: Oh, great. Well, I'm in Washington, DC and I do walks in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. I might be expanding to West Virginia soon. We shall see. And my website is www.forestimmersiondc.com. And you can contact me through that website and I would be happy to answer any questions you have or schedule a walk with you.
And, I just want to ask you, what would you like us most to remember from this conversation?
Toby: Hmm, I think, you know, the closing messages, you know, I tell you about the good news and the wonderful things that are happening in politics.
And I tell you those things, not so that you can sit back and think everything is okay. But again, to prove that when you use your voice and you use it positively, you can make a difference. And so, yeah, I guess, just kind of, you know, letting everybody be out there and, and really be involved, speak your mind, speak your truth, and do it with love and you will have a lot of success.
Pamela: Thank you so much for this conversation, Toby.
Toby: My pleasure. Thanks for having me. It's great chatting with you again.
Pamela: Yes, same here. Have a wonderful day.
Toby: Thank you, you too.
Pamela: Thanks. Bye.
If you would like more information on how to access the resources and the people to help you to either create or cultivate a public green space in your area. you can contact Toby bloom at her website. And I'm very happy to say that inspired by her great information here, a small group of us in my hometown is getting together to do just that, to find a way to assist a beautiful privately owned forest sanctuary to become publicly accessible. The owner has been looking for a way for some time. To make this possible, and we're very hopeful.
Thanks for listening. Our intention with this podcast is to really promote and encourage positive and mutually beneficial relationships between people and nature. If you would like to support us, you can find us at www.patreon.or/oneinnature.