By Johannah Frisby, American Forests

I grew up in the Twin Cities in Minnesota, which is home to many parks and world class urban forests, including in Minneapolis which is listed as one of the top cities for urban forests. It’s just a 10-minute drive to adventure around Minnehaha Falls and walk to the Mississippi River to find the perfect skipping stones. Known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” my favorite summer pastime was to string up the hammock by the closest lake or share a picnic with friends on the grass. Even in the winter, with inches (often even feet) of snow, trails are easy to find and lakes offer new opportunities for skating and fishing.  

I ended up at a small liberal arts college in central Minnesota. I am spoiled with five lakes, thousands of acres of land and a community that values the gifts of the natural world through the framework of Benedictine values. This lead to a new form of personal development and heightened my affection for the forest. Being able to immerse myself in nature so easily brought to my attention how important and impactful having that access is for individuals and communities.  

The benefits of these greenspaces and urban forests is unparalleled. I didn’t realize until quite recently just how lucky I have been to be surrounded by nature. Forests provide more opportunities than I ever imagined, from stronger and more connected neighborhoods to improved academic performance and mental health. Deciding to major in peace studies, it didn’t take long for an environmental justice focus to fall into place. This has allowed me to study problems such as racial inequities in park systems and policies that ensure environmental protection at local, national, and international levels.  

Finding American Forests felt almost too good to be true. From their passionate mission statement to the admirable work they’ve done in communities and forests around the country and around the world, I knew it was a place I wanted to be; their heavy focus on the importance of urban forests sealed the deal. Even in elementary school in Minneapolis, I was taught the importance of environmental stewardship. Working in the policy department, I can ensure that everyone receives the opportunity to live with and learn from the trees in the same way that I do in my life. Working at American Forests, I can find peace knowing that what I am doing matters.