Health professionals are hoping a new walking trail at Warren Memorial Hospital will be a community space where patients, visitors, area residents and travelers alike can enjoy the outdoors while improving their mental and physical well-being.

Mary Presley, director of rehabilitation services for the new hospital at 351 Valley Health Way in Front Royal, sees the trail as a wonderful resource for patients in physical rehab as well as athletes looking to up their game through strength and agility exercises.

“Being able to walk on uneven surfaces,” she said. “That is definitely therapeutic.”

The trail’s beauty is also a great addition to a community already situated along the North Fork of the Shenandoah River and at the entrance to Shenandoah National Park, she said.

“The views are quite breathtaking,” said Presley. “It’s almost like looking out as if you’re on Skyline Drive.”

The Andreae Family Wellness & Recreation Trail was built using funds given by Fred and Christine Andreae, whom Valley Health Foundations Executive Director Jenny Grooms called “very humble supporters.”

She said the couple had the idea for the trail after visiting a family member in a hospital that offered access to a walking trail.

“They were able to get outdoors,” Grooms said, and “clear their minds.”

The Andreaes offered the idea of a healing trail, while another early supporter — former Regional Director of Development for Valley Health Niki Wilson — was looking for ways the health system could help people improve their health.

The new hospital, which opened in June, is “literally cut into a mountainside,” Grooms said.

That made the walking trail all the more appropriate for the setting, she said.

“I would say it is definitely unique to the Warren Memorial Hospital campus but also demonstrates our evolution in health care,” said Grooms.

Health care, in general, has long carried a stigma of treating sick or injured people at the exclusion of inspiring lasting health. Many people might never enter a hospital unless they or someone they love is sick. People might therefore view hospitals as sad and scary places they hope to avoid.

Valley Health is seeking to change that reality in various ways, such as through the new hospital’s rehabilitation services department, which focuses its attention on well people as much as injured people, and through the wellness trail.

Health care, “It’s not just about sick care,” Grooms stressed.

It’s also about “increasing your level of activity.”

Many of the hospital’s programs now focus on wellness and activity, Grooms said.

“The trail is a wonderful piece that we’re excited to share with the community,” she said, calling it “a wonderful experience.”

The wellness trail offers several routes through the forest around the hospital, with a shorter walk to a lower overlook half a mile from the entrance and a longer walk to an upper overlook about 1.25 miles from the entrance.

The upper overlook includes a raised viewing platform with long-range views of downtown Front Royal about 2.5 miles away, Signal Knob about nine miles away, and Skyline Drive about four miles away, as well as the surrounding valley.

The trail is open from dawn until dusk and features two footbridges and two rest areas with benches.

An approximate 7-8% grade makes it friendly for hikers of all abilities, and the natural surface reduces the impact to the existing forest, an informational brochure explains.

Presley said the trail would also offer a great place for people to escape into nature for their mental well-being, such as through calming walks and places to meet with counselors.

Though she wasn’t aware of any local “walk and talk” therapy efforts through Valley Health, she said the trail would offer an ideal setting for such conversational walks.

“It kind of gives a sense of peace,” she said, allowing people to “be in a calm place.”

Walk and talk therapy sessions require a safe and private location where therapists and their clients can talk without being overheard.

While the wellness trail could provide that setting, Presley cautioned that the trail has the potential to get busy with hikers, families and fitness groups.

She recalled visitors coming to walk even as the trail was still being built, one hiker telling her the trail offered a more secure location beside a hospital than other regional albeit far-removed locations like Old Rag.

Here, “I know I can get help easily,” the hiker told Presley.

Though the hospital and its trail are still new, Presley already has her sights on future wellness options, in particular a fitness center.

“We are still hoping to have in the future a fitness facility built,” Grooms said.

Prepandemic, Valley Health officials had a feasibility study involving such a facility, and she said it’s still being discussed.

She envisions something like a collegiate center with weight machines, ball courts and a swimming pool.

“A place for our community to use it,” she said. “Get the whole family involved.”

Visit the Andreae Family Wellness & Recreation Trail on the campus of Warren Memorial Hospital at 351 Valley Health Way, Front Royal.

For information about the hospital, visit valleyhealthlink.com/warren-memorial-hospital/the-new-warren-memorial-hospital.

Contact Josette Keelor at jkeelor@nvdaily.com