People and the Land: Barbara Crowley, public health advocate

By Jonah Raether
Kennebec Land Trust

There is a sign near the main entrance to the Maine General Medical Center in Augusta showing the walking trails that surround the Alfond Center for Health. In the elevator, another sign touts some of the classes offered by the Hospital, including Hiking & Outdoor Safety and Forest Bathing. These are just a couple of examples of the efforts being made by the hospital to encourage patients and local residents to get outside and connect with the environments in which they live and work.
This public health programming aligns with the main goals of the hospital, as well as with those of Dr. Barbara Crowley, the chief transformation officer at MaineGeneral Health. One of the key initiatives of the MaineGeneral system is “preventive health and (supporting) many ongoing programs in communities.”
If this approach – keeping people active, healthy, and out of the hospital – seems to contradict the more traditional attitudes toward medical care and treatment, it’s because it does. According to Crowley, “We have to reframe our thinking.” Providing care in Maine looks different than it might in more populated areas of the country, because Maine has more residents living in rural areas than any other state. Many of the visitors to the hospital feel right at home in the outdoors, so it makes sense for the hospital to connect them with nature-based health programing.
It’s not just patients, either. The staff and administration at MaineGeneral often use the trails and paths outside the hospital for “Walking Meetings,” recognizing that even a few minutes outside during the day can do tremendous things for the mind and body.
Crowley knows about that human-environmental relationship firsthand. She lives on four acres of land and is learning more about permaculture in her free time, with the hopes of becoming more familiar with the ecosystems her property supports.
Another way to keep communities healthy, says Crowley, is by building up their resilience, something that can be done by establishing relationships between individuals and local organizations and connecting people of all ages to established resources. These connections not only help to improve the health of individuals, they can also prepare municipalities to respond to climate change and other environmental impacts such as drought or unpredictable weather. A connected community working together is well suited to ensure the long-term health of people and the environment.
— In 2019, Kennebec Land Trust intern Jonah Raether interviewed five Kennebec County community members about their relationships and connections to the land and natural spaces; below is one of his essays. The Kennebec Land Trust works cooperatively with landowners and communities to conserve the forests, shorelands, fields, and wildlife that define central Maine. We welcome you to explore our trails and properties and make your own connection with the natural world. For more information, visit or 207-377-2848.