Institute Awarded $1M Grant by TKF Foundation

man stares up at a towering tree in the middle of a bright green forest

Study will measure healing effects of nature on wounded warriors

The Institute has received a $1 million grant from the TKF Foundation to create an outdoor healing space and study its impact on service members who spend time there. Slated to break ground this winter, the Green Road Project will turn a swath of woodland into an oasis of respite on the campus of Naval Support Activity Bethesda, home of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

The only place of its kind on campus, the Green Road will include a streamside path, seating areas, a communal pavilion for casual gatherings, and a commemorative pavilion for honoring fallen veterans.

“While helping service members and their families restore their bodies, minds and spirits, the Green Road Project aims to expand the evidence base for using the natural environment as a tool for healing,” said TIIH President Brian Berman, MD.

TIIH has assembled a team of researchers to study the physiological, biological, and psychological responses to spending time on the Green Road. Using a new set of metrics designed to measure whole-body healing, studies will look at biomarkers of stress, analyze participants’ journals and stories, and examine changes in gene expression.

“Holistic therapies, such as art-making and encounters with nature, aren’t fully accepted because scientists haven’t had a way to measure their effects, but that’s changing,” said Fred Foote, MD, a TIIH Scholar who conceived the Green Road Project. “By 2016, we expect to prove by direct measurement that exposure to nature can heal the human body.”

Collaborators include the Consortium for Health and Military Performance at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (Department of Defense), NIH Clinical Center’s Pain and Palliative Care Service, and the University of Arizona Institute on Place and Wellbeing, comprised of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, College of Medicine, and the UA College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, University of Arizona at Tucson.

The Green Road was designed by a team of military service members, architects, engineers, landscape architects, and healthcare professionals. Design-build firm CDM Smith of Fairfax, VA, will perform the engineering and construction on the project. CDM Smith and the University of Maryland Landscape Architecture program are collaborating on the landscape design. Alt Architecture of Chicago is the designing communal and commemorative structures.

Funds for this project were provided by the TKF Foundation as part of the National Open Spaces Sacred Places Initiative. The mission of the TKF Foundation is to provide the opportunity for a deeper human experience by inspiring and supporting the creation of public greenspace that offers a temporary place of sanctuary, encourages reflection, provides solace, and engenders peace and well-being.