Photo courtesy of @natural_highways on Instagram
49 weeks have passed since students could attend school without a Zoom link. Individuals have been confined to their homes for almost a year, so it is understandable that restlessness has settled in as the weeks ahead seem endless. In response to this, a couple of WCHS sophomores discovered that enjoying mother nature through hikes and bike rides provides them with the release from cabin fever that they need. A non-profit was created as a result.
Natural Highways is a recently launched organization whose mission is to motivate and encourage individuals to get out of the house in a safe and enjoyable way. It was founded by four students attempting to create a welcoming community full of outdoor enthusiasts.
“In the midst of the pandemic, I had found biking more than just exercise, as after every single trip I would feel relieved and refreshed,” Richard Luo, the founder and President of Natural Highways, said. “I decided that the relief I had felt, of not getting cramped at home and instead, taking a breather, would be extremely beneficial to teenagers. Studies have shown going outside relieves stress and even boosts self esteem, making it a necessity for all students.”
Each of the team members has a different idea of how Natural Highways is unique from other outdoor organizations. Their responses emphasize the time and dedication it has taken in order to get the non-profit up and running.
“Natural Highways is unique for its variety of services,” Nathaniel Wu, the Executive Content Creation Officer, said. “Services include an app, an informative website, blog posts and hosted in-person events (socially distanced). Our weekly blogs cover opinions on certain venues, informative articles and much more. These variety of services mean that members have a lot of choices on what they want to do, which I believe is a fundamental idea in the organization.”
While Wu believes the group is one-of-a-kind for its abundance of resources, Luo sweeps the discussion in a different direction expressing how the people involved make the organization stand out.
“The thing that sets us apart from other outdoor organizations is our focus on building a strong sense of community,” Luo said. “At Natural Highways, we don’t want our members to just follow what we do and do what we want. Instead, we would rather give them the security and confidence of inputting opinions and expressing themselves. As a result, instead of putting on a facade that we are these machines who perfectly manage everything, our community members understand that we’re just teenagers too.”
When asked about what aspect of the organization excites them the most, co-founder and Vice President Tej Mehta expressed his hard work and endeavors with the Natural Highways app.
“I am most excited about the launch of the app that is affiliated with our organization,” Mehta said. “I hope that this app can prevent outdoor excursions from being stressful by making it easier for users to understand and know more about the place that they are visiting. I also hope that the app can educate and spread awareness of the beautifully built trails in our community.”
As far as safety precautions go, the team has thought of thorough ways to have fun with friends while still being aware that there is an ongoing pandemic.
“In addition to social distancing and wearing masks, individuals who attend the hosted events are asked to bring wipes and hand sanitizer,” Wu said. “It is also required for everyone to fill out a COVID questionnaire that asks for symptoms and potential exposures before every trip. We have a rule where if you have likely been exposed to COVID, then you are not allowed to attend for two weeks.”
With spring just around the corner, Natural Highways is a perfect way to connect with peers and get some fresh air in the process. The team has created a plethora of opportunities to connect and explore what the organization has to offer, all provided on their Linktree: https://linktr.ee/NaturalHighways. The links take you to their website, discord, Instagram and Android app (with the IOS version coming soon).
“The reason this organization was launched in the first place is greatly attributed to the pandemic, as we encourage students and teens to participate in the outdoors,” Luo said. “They would especially benefit due to being enclosed indoors and spending hours upon hours staring into a screen. At Natural Highways, we offer a community for people to join in, a place for people to take breaks and most importantly, a place for people to relieve stress.”