The UBNA runs along the shore of Lake Washington.

The UBNA runs along the shore of Lake Washington.

 [Editor’s Note: “A Breath of Fresh Air” is a twice-a-month column that unearths local nature-escapes embedded in our metropolitan environment and is specifically concerned with highlighting the benefits that spending time in the great outdoors can have on our holistic well-being.]

Given the seemingly torrential daily downpours recently, the only time we may want to spend outside is hustling to class. However, this “bad” weather may actually be a good thing for our memory. 

Researchers in a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that on cloudy and rainy days, people were able to recall three times as much information as on sunny days. Additionally, on the “bad” weather days, people not only recalled more information, but more correct information.  

These findings may be a good sign for the first round of midterms and for studying in general this quarter, as long as you are outside long enough to experience the weather. Memory is the backbone of academic success, it gives us our ability to retain and recall knowledge. As college students it is one of the most crucial tools we rely upon every day.  

Luckily, there are spots on campus where you can help the functionality of your memory by interacting with nature, whether it’s through walking, jogging, or simply observing from the comfort of a bench.

While you probably have heard of the Suzzallo Reading Room and the world-famous cherry blossoms of the Quad, you may not have heard of the park and outdoor research lab area on campus.

The Union Bay Natural Area (UBNA) lies tucked away on the east side of campus, along the shore of Lake Washington. It consists of more than 70 acres of ponds, gravel paths, cattails, and over 200 species of birds

Simply observing nature in action by birdwatching is one way to connect with the environment. Diverse terrain ranges from wetlands to lakeshore to grasslands. Trails for walking or jogging cover 1.5 miles and provide a more physical approach to interacting with nature. They can, however, become muddy after heavy rainfall, so I recommend wearing rain or hiking boots during this season. 

The water along UBNA’s coastal border is a lovely spot for canoeing to view turtles, herons, and mallard ducks without having to paddle too far. Canoeing at the UBNA is one of the most intimate naturalistic interactions because it involves paddling right through the ecosystems of the water and wetland areas, which are less influenced by man than the shoreland. 

So, while we cannot change the “bad” weather common this time of the year, we can make the most of it at the UBNA by recognizing that spending time outdoors may actually be improving our memory.

Since the UBNA is not only a park but also used for research, there are plenty of options for interacting with nature than in other parks. The research lab aspect of the UBNA is through the natural and manual restoration projects that has occurred there in the past 50 years under the management of the UW Botanic Gardens.

In the early 20th century, much of the marshland of the UBNA was created by lowering Lake Washington in order to construct the Lake Washington Ship Canal, which connected the lake and the Puget Sound; however, this area was not seen as valuable for builders so it was used as a landfill, giving rise to nicknames like “Montlake Dump” or “University Dump.”  

Eventually, the UW landowners decided to use more productive, environmentally friendly purposes for the area, so landfills were replaced with parking lots and athletic fields. What natural area was left became the UBNA. After half of a century and various ecological restoration efforts, there are barely any visible remnants of the land’s prior purpose. 

This little slice of nature is embedded in our urban campus. In fact, the UBNA has an unbeatable view of Husky Stadium. Options for venturing to the UBNA, using Red Square as a starting point, are a little over a mile walk, a 10-minute drive, a 20-minute bus ride, or — if you are feeling really adventurous — a short canoe paddle from the Waterfront Activities Center.

Ecological construction is in progress at the UBNA and is planned to finish next spring. Currently, all trails remain open. 

On any given day, birdwatchers, dog walkers, nature photographers, volunteers, and joggers can be found in the naturalistic niche that the UBNA provides. If you are looking for a nearby park with trails, water, and abundant wildlife, look no further than our very own campus.

Reach writer Kara Patajo at Twitter: @karapatajo

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