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During the coronavirus pandemic, a little time outdoors can reduce stress for Howard County residents

As our community practices social distancing, spending time outdoors offers numerous benefits for our physical and mental well-being. A recent study from the University of Maryland and Cornell University found that 10 minutes or more of time spent in nature can improve your mental health. An act as simple as walking around the neighborhood can provide exercise for our bodies and stress relief for our minds.

The Middle Patuxent Environmental Area is a little-known local gem. According to the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks website, the nature area of more than 1,000 acres is home to an abundance of wildlife, including 150 species of birds, more than 40 types of mammals and many amphibians, reptiles and fish. Over five miles of hiking trails are available to provide an escape into nature, including the Wildlife Loop Trail, the Southwind Trail and a smaller connector trail. Parking is available at 5795 Trotter Road. Learn more at middlepatuxent.org.

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Bird watching is another activity that is well-suited to these unusual times. Birds can be observed from indoors or outdoors, with a naked eye or with the help of binoculars. Indoor birding occurs through one or more windows of your home. Outdoor birding can happen from a porch or balcony, in your back yard or in a natural area such as the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area. The Howard County Bird Club offers many resources for bird watching in our area. The club is a chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society, with a “mission is to promote the knowledge, development, protection and conservation of bird life and other naturally occurring species and their habitats.” The Howard County Bird Club’s website includes beautiful images of birds observed in our region, guides to birding in local natural areas and other information on how to start birding. The site’s address is howardbirds.website.

A number of landscaping activities can be performed in March and April that will beautify your yard and help to clear your mind. According to the University of Maryland Extension Home and Garden Information Center, this is a good time to cut down perennials and ornamental grasses to within two inches of the ground. Other recommended activities include pruning roses, cutting back herbs and seeding your lawn. As the soil begins to dry out, trees and shrubs may be planted.

Please keep in your thoughts and prayers the students, families and staff of River Hill High School. As you may know, in recent weeks two local students were killed in separate vehicle accidents.

Senior Marc El-Sayed died in a car accident on Route 108. According to his obituary, Marc enjoyed traveling, volunteering and cooking. He was passionate about exploring other cultures and helping others, here and around the world. He planned to start college in the fall. Memorial donations may be made to the Yale Alumni Service Corps, which “promotes mutual cross-cultural awareness and sustainable development in under-served communities.” Contact Joao Aleixo at joao.aleixo@yale.edu.

Ramsey Maghari was an 11th-grader who died as a result of injuries from a motorcycle accident. According to his obituary, Ramsey enjoyed exploring abandoned sites, taking photographs and riding bikes of all kinds — BMX bikes, dirt bikes and motorcycles. His goal was to become a motorcycle technician. Donations may be made in his honor to the Mike Rowe Works Foundation, which is dedicated to breaking educational stereotypes and helping students who wish to pursue trade careers. Donations can be made at mikeroweworks.org.

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