Touring national parks from your chair

Angela Adams was teetering on the edge of a cliff when she began to question this whole rock-climbing enterprise.

“Uh-oh,” she murmured. “I’m worried I’m going to fall.” Then she took off her goggles. “I could almost feel the breeze!” she marveled.

The Decatur resident, who works in quality control for the pharmaceutical industry, was exploring Joshua Tree National Park by way of virtual reality. Her headphones and eyewear offered 360-degrees of sights and sounds of the southern Californian desert, a place she’s never been.

She traveled there on a blazing hot Wednesday while sitting under a tent in one of the common areas of Atlantic Station, the in-town live-work-play complex. A unique program called “Bring the Parks to You,” sponsored by the Humana health insurance giant, is setting up similar tents, pop-up “cabins” and Adirondack-style chairs for one-day shows in 20 cities this summer.

Their goal is to show that national parks are closer than you think — and different than one might imagine.

It’s part of the 100th anniversary of the National Parks system, a birthday that has parks service staff urging Americans to get out of the house.

“We want people to have an opportunity to learn about our parks, to discover where they are, to become visitors, to become users,” said Peggy O’Dell, deputy director of operations at the National Park Service, in a recent interview.

Justin Adams, 25, Angela’s son, likes that idea.

As a game warden for the state of Mississippi, he spends most of his days outdoors, and has been to almost every state park in Mississippi. But he hasn’t been to Joshua Tree. Or Yellowstone.

The virtual experience at Atlantic Station whetted his appetite, he said. That’s the result the parks official were hoping for.

Humana, the health insurance company, sees a direct benefit to public health from visits to the 408 parks in the system. Spending time outdoors reduces stress, benefits mental health and helps people live longer and healthier lives.

But the Environmental Protection Agency reports that the average American spends 93 percent of his or her life indoors.

Are you getting enough nature in your nurture? In case you were wondering, you could have taken a Nature Engagement Level quiz at the kiosk — or at this site online. (A typical question asks how nervous you get when you step outside Wi-Fi coverage.)

Virtual Reality is an effective stop-gap substitute for the real thing. (They're even using it in amusement parks.) What about Angela Adams' virtual tour of the wilderness? Does she want to take it to Real Life? "I don't do parks," she said, talking to her son. "That's between you and your dad."

(Note to Angela Adams: you can go to a national park in Georgia and still stay inside. The Martin Luther King National Historic Site is a good example, and accounts for a significant fraction of visits to national parks in Georgia.)

Others among Georgia’s national parks include: Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, Jimmy Carter National Historic Site, Andersonville NHS, Fort Pulaski National Monument, Fort Frederica National Monument, Ocmulgee National Monument, Cumberland Island National Seashore, Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. Also managed by the Park Service is the 2,184-mile-long Appalachian Trail, which begins in Georgia.

You can experience something like the virtual tour of Yellowstone National Park and Joshua Tree National Park at this link and at this link.

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