Community Spotlights

Meet Jess Gregan: Leader of our Forest Therapy Walks!

by Sara Hirschler on April 9, 2020

Welcome to a new series where we get to know our beloved member event leaders a little better. These dedicated park champions lead our guided hikes, trail runs, meditations, forest therapy walks, yoga classes, and more year-round.  This week: Meet Jess Gregan, who is a certified Forest Therapy Guide with Wild Philadelphia and leads our Forest Therapy Walks throughout the year.

What are your favorite parts of Philly parks?

Philly parks are incredible. I love that I can go 10 minutes from Center City and be surrounded by the beautiful woods on the Boxers’ Trail, or the restored reservoir behind The Discovery Center. I am constantly finding new surprises in our local parks. That’s the beautiful thing about forest bathing, really: when you slow down, there are so many extraordinary details to see and things to learn, even in a place you’ve been hundreds of times. My “favorite part” changes with each walk. Depending on the day, it might be the crunch of fall leaves beneath my boots, or the sound of the Wissahickon flowing after a rainstorm, or the scent of white pine as I take a deep breath on the trail.

What has been one of the unexpected things about leading member events for Fairmount Park Conservancy over the years?

I was thrilled to begin partnering with the Conservancy last year to introduce more people to the concept of forest bathing. What I didn’t expect was how much I’d learn from each of the participants on these walks. They’ve shared some remarkable stories about their own relationships with this land, and the healing, the stress relief, the companionship that can be found here. Hearing these stories from so many different people really drives home the idea that we don’t need to go far into the distant wilderness to have a transcendental experience. We just need to connect with the wisdom of the land, the trees, the rivers that are all around us, right here in Philly.

Jess leading a special tea ceremony following a Forest Therapy Walk along the Boxers’ Trail.

What has been the best thing about leading member events for the Conservancy over the years?

One amazing thing for me has been the opportunity to connect with this land in a deeper way personally, to watch the subtleties of how it changes with each season. But I think more than anything, it’s been a gift to watch people begin to form their own relationships with the natural world. I’d been hiking and running on some of these trails for years, but to be able to bring groups of people together to “meet the forest,” to slow down and really notice the beauty of these places, has been a total joy. I am incredibly grateful to be able to provide an experience that feels welcoming and safe for folks of all ages and abilities to come out and experience our beautiful park system, and to meet the flowers, the ferns, the trees, the bees – all these magnificent non-human beings that they might’ve otherwise just passed by.

Many folks have probably enjoyed your guided experiences several times, what are some fun facts about you they might not know?

I’m a proud parent to an American Dingo, Lola! She doesn’t get to come on public forest bathing walks, but her wild dog senses have led me on some pretty astonishing adventures. I also love traveling! I was fortunate enough to visit eight countries last year with my fiancé, Cecilia. We actually got engaged while kayaking through some breathtaking fjords in the small village of Flåm, Norway.

What are you doing during this challenging time for self care?

I’m trying to be gentle with myself every day. I think we see a lot of advice to use this time to learn new hobbies, work on our businesses, and generally focus on “self-improvement.” But it’s important to acknowledge that not everyone will have the mental or physical bandwidth to do that, and that’s perfectly okay! I’m doing a lot of reflecting, meditating, reading and cooking.

  • Chef Chloe Coscarelli’s cookbook “Chloe Flavor” has become my daily go-to for all sorts of easy and really delicious vegan recipes.
  • Some nights I allow myself to binge-watch Parks & Rec, but I’m also seeking out interesting new movies like “Fantastic Fungi” which I highly recommend! (Did you know trees use mycelium networks to communicate with each other?!)
  • And if I could prescribe anything to nourish your soul in this chaotic time, it’d be reading at least one Mary Oliver poem per day.

Join Wild Philadelphia on April 19 for a Virtual Forest Therapy Session. Click here to register.

Want to support Philly parks for future generations? Become a member of Fairmount Park Conservancy today!