ParkRx: Prescribing Outdoor Parks for Mental Health

Professor Dorothy Ibes, our research advisor, has been working to create a database of parks in the Greater Williamsburg Area that can be prescribed to patients by medical professionals and psychologists. There is substantial ecotherapy evidence supporting the hypothesis that spending time outdoors can be healing and that the outdoors are an untapped medical resource. The hope is that getting the medical community involved in encouraging people to spend time outside can increase awareness of the benefits of outdoor time on mental and physical health and start a movement within the broader medical community to include nature in treatment plans for patients.

Darrien and I were able to work behind the scenes on the GWA ParkRx website, which will eventually be made an available prescription tool for professionals. We input data from the Williamsburg area, including parks in Richmond, Newport News, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, and other nearby greenspaces. The selection includes a wide variety of greenspaces, from urban and neighborhood parks to wildlife sanctuaries and the Great Dismal Swamp, which is a massive wetlands area near the North Carolina border. Information about each park went into the website, including:

GPS coordinates, photos, handicap accessibility, sports amenities, trails, restrooms, food/picnic options, rental information, and other relevant information.

We also input information that was gathered by Appalachian State University researchers about parks in their local area, increasing the scope of the GWA website to encompass a larger region. The website still requires a few tweaks, such as streamlining the data input fields and gathering some additional information about some of the parks. Future researchers may develop a generalized list of criteria and then visit each park in the database to acquire more information about facilities that we currently lack.

It has been interesting and fulfilling to work on a project of such consequence, knowing that hopefully medical professionals in the area will be using the information that we gathered to improve the welfare of patients. If the project is successful, similar tools could be created across the country.

Learn more about ParkRx in Williamsburg here!


  1. I am excited to hear that you have put tremendous efforts into adding more information to the ecotherapy database website. In the meantime, I am curious to find out how exactly doctors will use the database to promote ecotherapy in the near future!

  2. The concept behind this project is fascinating and I’m so glad you were funded by the Charles Center this summer!

  3. Simran Rohatgi says:

    This work sounds amazing! Not only encouraging medical professionals to explore nature as a possible treatment, but also giving them a convenient resource for doing so seems like an excellent way to get this technique to catch on quickly. Have you talked to any medical professionals in the area already? How did they respond to the idea?

  4. This sounds like such an awesome project. What do you think is the best way to have this model spread to other locations?

  5. I checked out your website! It is amazing. My name is Shannon Dutchie and I’m in Student Assembly. I was wondering if you are attached to any student organization on campus? Student Assembly gives out funds for students organizations or one-time projects on campus that benefit students. I’m really interested in your concept that being outdoors can help with mental health. Every year, the school holds a Mental Health Week and I think your concept of encouraging students to spend time outdoors would be an amazing addition, if you’re interested. Good luck with your project!

  6. ngaiyueng says:

    From your description, the database you are working on will include a fair amount of data about the parks. Are some of the data collected under any specific consideration? I guess certain information will be especially important for the medical professionals.