Two children sitting on a large rock looking towards the forest.
Hike to High Rocks The whole family will enjoy the incredible views from High Rocks. © Juan Melli / Take A Hike
Stories in New Jersey

Nature 101: Be An Insider, Outside!

Nature is for everyone. Spending time outside offers many physical and mental health benefits. Here's how to maximize your next outdoor adventure.

Nature is for everyone, and spending time outside offers many proven physical and mental health benefits, like stress reduction, vitamin D exposure, social bonding, even relief for digital screen-wearied eyes. It is important, then, for everyone to have access to and comfort in the outdoors.

Some people face impediments to accessing nature easily, including lack of familiarity, physical needs, even misconceptions about required equipment. In a recent New Jersey survey commissioned by The Nature Conservancy, respondents who self-reported having spent no or limited time in nature also cited other obstacles: lack of transportation, concerns about wildlife encounters, unfamiliarity with trail markers and maps, and low confidence for facing emergencies away from the residential bustle. 

Nature 101, a fun new series produced by TNC in partnership with local subject experts, aims to provide education, encouragement, resources and opportunities to enhance access to and enjoyment of nature for everyone. The quick, lighthearted and approachable videos break down the basics—and the barriers—for maximizing outdoor experiences. 

Nature 101 Video Series

Click the images below to watch each episode. Watch, share and hit the trails!

Jessica Dotson takes a selfie with nature behind her.
Jessica Dotson The creative force behind the Nature 101 video series is Jessica Dotson, a New Jersey-based filmmaker, storyteller and self-taught animator. © Courtesy of Jessica Dotson

Meet the Director

Jessica Dotson

The creative force behind the Nature 101 video series is Jessica Dotson, a New Jersey-based filmmaker, storyteller and self-taught animator. Jessica received her education in media studies and film at Rutgers University, honing her skills in film and video production.

She currently works as an associate producer at Nickelodeon and a freelancer in digital video creation, saying, “I love to tell stories with compelling narratives across all mediums that engage people of all backgrounds!”

TNC: How did you react when you were initially approached to help with this project?

JD: I was super excited—I always love to work on videos that help the community in some way. And they wanted to do 10!

TNC: What excited you about making the Nature 101 series? What surprised you?

JD: I was surprised how much I learned about nature. I live in more of a city area, and learning how and where I can access nature just shows how valuable these videos will be to a general audience.

TNC: Any memorable moments during production?

JD: Getting to see all these beautiful places we have right around the corner—waterfalls, lakes and even animals. It was a really fun experience!

TNC: What is your favorite way to spend time outdoors?

JD: I’m a city gal…not a big fan of bugs, haha! BUT, my favorite way to spend time outdoors is to put on my headphones, turn up the tunes and take a stroll around the park…which I’ve now learned counts as nature!

TNC: Thoughts about The Nature Conservancy?

JD: I was not aware of TNC before this project, but I love what they do. As a society, we don’t know how much we rely on the natural world. And I love that TNC’s mission is to preserve that world AND to educate people about it. 

TNC: How did you employ skills from your professional career to this project?

JD: Video making is what I do! My day job is an associate producer making short- and long-form digital media. So I brought all my skills from work to TNC, pulling upon my experience to script, plan, film and edit the videos.

TNC: Do you have a favorite video?

JD: I’m very proud of how all the videos turned out. I would say either the TSA or Oregon Trail parodies are my favorites, just because I think when you couple comedy with education, it makes it fun to learn while also having the info “stick.” I also liked the Nature Knowhow gameshow—all the actors were really on their A games for that one!

TNC: What do you hope the videos achieve?

JD: I hope people get valuable information about nature and some entertainment too! 

Aerial view of tall trees in a dense forest.
New Jersey Pine Barrens The New Jersey Pine Barrens, also known as the Pinelands or simply the Pines, is the largest remaining example of the Atlantic coastal pine barrens ecosystem. © Shutterstock

Our Nature 101 Partners

 Hikeolution: A casual group based in northern New Jersey that hosts weekly hikes and events for anyone interested in exploring nature, with a special interest in reconnecting Black people to the great outdoors.

Pinelands Preservation Alliance: Since 1989, the leading voice for protecting the natural and historic resources of the New Jersey Pinelands. In 2021, they launched The Pinelands is For Everyone project, allying individuals with disabilities, organizations dedicated to the welfare of those with disabilities, and public and private landowning agencies to help overcome these barriers so everyone can enjoy the benefits of time in nature by visiting the parks, forests and preserves.

Children & Nature Network: A nationwide nonprofit supporting and mobilizing leaders, educators, activists, practitioners and parents working to turn the trend of an indoor childhood back outside to the benefits of nature—and to increase safe and equitable access to the natural world for all.

Weequahic Park Association: A nationally recognized, grassroots environmental nonprofit dedicated to the restoration and preservation of Newark’s Weequahic Park.

Celery Farm: Author Jim Wright’s blog about High Mountain Park Preserve, Celery Farm Nature Preserve, wildlife and more.