Health, Nature and Denver’s Highline Canal

March 31, 2017

Jacob Schor ND, FABNO




As many of you know I have, for quite a few years (enough that I’ve forgotten exactly how many), served as an editor for the Natural Medicine Journal (NMJ), the official journal of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP).  I review the newly published medical literature for reports that have significant implications to the care of our patients and then find a colleague willing to volunteer to carefully review the study and interpret it’s import to our profession.  For me, one of the best parts of this ‘job’ of mine is the opportunity it affords to meet colleagues who I previously didn’t know, find out where their interests are and perhaps most importantly provide them with a platform to talk about these interests and their passions.


Of all of our writers who have their own topic, Kurt Beil stands out.  Over the last years he has been my go to reviewer for any new research on how exposure to nature impacts health. 


In December 2013 NMJ published a piece he’d written about the link between the number of trees in a community and mortality rates from respiratory and heart disease.  In Dr. Beil’s words, “… there is an inherent healing power of nature, an intrinsic connection between the natural world and human health and well-being”


This is the same theme that comes up in all his subsequent articles.  Below I will paste links to several more pieces Kurt’s written.  These are just a few examples of data that suggest that exposure to nature is important in maintenance of human health.  It’s just a measure of how we are from nature that we need ‘proof’ that nature is even valuable and important.  Those architects who designed our cities certainly new the value of parks, green spaces and sidewalk trees long before the science had proved it true.


Here in Denver we are blessed by what might be considered an accident, the Highline Canal.  Our office is situated directly adjacent to the canal and Dr Bloom and I have had the pleasure of looking out our office windows at the Canal for the last 17 years.  We’ve had the daily pleasure of walking along side it nearly daily, year-round, rain or shine, with the company of our fine dog.

The canal was started in 1881 as an irrigation project, as a way to bring water to early settlers and farmers in what would eventually become the Denver Metropolitan area.   The South Platte Cherry Creek area had been settled during the Gold Rush of 1859. The Canal was completed in 1883 providing irrigation to 20,000 acres of land.   Denver Water acquired the canal in 1924 and since the 1970s has managed the Canal and the trail that follows alongside as a recreational area.  Thus in effect Denver has a green space that is 71 miles long winding its way through our urban space. Water typically runs in the canal intermittently throughout the summer supplying various permit holders to continue irrigation.  Unfortunately this past year, high waters damaged the Waterton Canyon diversion that is used to release water into the canal.  This infrastructure needs to be repaired before water is again released.


Although Denver Water owns and manages the Canal, a non-profit group called the Highline Canal Conservancy serves to preserve, protect and enhance the Canal, in large part by helping provide a vision for the future of the Canal.  While the existence of the canal is something of a fluke, it has come to be a valuable asset to the health of our community.  The Conservancy has a lovely video about the canal posted on their website.


Below are links to a number of Kurt Beil’s review articles published in the Natural Medicine Journal.  By the way his own website is:


July 2014: Exposure to Residential Green Space Improves Mental Health

Study finds impressive and immediate mental health improvements as a result of green space exposure


September 2014:  The proximity of green space and parks in Wisconsin can predict mental health status


April 2015: A British study shows inverse association between density of London street trees and rates of antidepressant prescription


March 2016: Time that breast cancer patients spent in the woods was associated with increased antitumor natural killer cell activity


May 2016:  Even seeing images of nature is enough to help people recoever from stress and trauma


September 2016: Available green space affects children’s health in particular risk of obesity