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Thursday, September 16, 2021
Badgers branch out

‘Getting outside is what a lot of us need’: Badgers Branch Out helps students explore nature during pandemic

In the midst of midterm season, Zoom burnout and warmer temperatures, Kylie Thomasen wants to help students get outside and explore local green spaces. 

“Getting outside is what a lot of us need, for our mental health and just because it’s so fun to do,” Thomasen said. “Nature is all around us, and we don’t have to go very far to find it. There are so many great places to explore.”

Thomasen, a UW-Madison sophomore, began the Badgers Branch Out Instagram page and website over the summer as a class project. The account reflects her academic interests in life sciences communication, environmental studies and graphic design. 

“I love nature photography, but I was like, ‘Who’s my audience?’” Thomasen recounted. “I talked with my instructor and he was like, ‘Yeah, there’s a lot of people from outside of Madison who aren’t familiar with [outdoor spaces].’ And that really got my wheels turning. This could be a great opportunity to help UW-Madison students find nature and explore Madison.” 

Thomasen posts her own photography and invites her followers to submit photos or tag her account. Recently, she featured places like Raymer’s Cove, Allen Centennial Garden and Hoyt Park.

Her Instagram presence has only grown since she created the account in July. She currently has just over 1,000 followers. She hit a record 228 likes on one of her latest posts, which featured the “Sad Yeti” on Lake Monona. 

Still, Thomasen said she was “anti-social media” before beginning the page. 

“Then I took my social media class and it’s helped me see [that] social media can be used for good. Especially with doing Badgers Branch Out, I went from somebody who was never on social media to posting every week and I genuinely enjoy doing it,” she explained. 

While Thomasen grew up in Waunakee, she discovered her love of nature and photography at her cabin in northern Wisconsin. She said her dad’s interest in photography helped her get started. 

“I think it was like my freshman year, when I took this photo of a chipmunk and I was so proud of it. I really started pretty early on in high school or maybe middle school,” Thomasen said. That photo was her first post on the page. 

Thomasen posts photos of outdoor areas in winter to encourage students to get outside even during the colder months. 

“Being outside, especially in winter, I think it’s just really important for mental health and everything. Winter has its beauty, and I feel like it’s something that doesn’t get enough attention,” she noted.

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Grace VanDyke, a sophomore who follows Badgers Branch Out, agreed that getting outside provides an escape from screen time and dorm life.

“Especially being in a dorm living situation where it’s one room, that’s a lot of time to spend in like 100 square feet with one person. It’s just a way to get to a different environment that’s not the four walls that I stare at all the time,” she said. 

VanDyke said she enjoys taking walks near Picnic Point and started biking to the Arboretum after seeing pictures on Badgers Branch Out. 

“There’s so many green spaces in Madison that you don’t know about, and there’s no real database,” VanDyke said. “I definitely pushed to go to the Arboretum after seeing some of their pictures, so it’s nice to get eyes on some of those spots without going all the way there to find out what it’s about.”

Thomasen agreed that Madison has a lot of outdoor spaces compared to other cities. Some of her posts include information about the time it takes to walk, bike or drive to different parks or gardens, and if reservations are required.

“Some places do have fees, and like, we’re college students. It’s harder to pay more money to go someplace,” Thomasen said. “I think it is challenging, which is why I try to stay in places that are closer to campus.” 

Thomasen said she has learned about communicating on Instagram by running the Badgers Branch Out page. Recently, her hashtag strategy helped her page get noticed by Yelp Wisconsin. She hopes to make her account more interactive in the future by using tools like Instagram Stories. 

“A lot of times, I don’t know how people feel about what I’m posting. I don’t know if they’re going anywhere, or how it’s helped them. I like having those Instagram questions to try to engage them,” Thomasen said. 

Thomasen said she hopes to maintain the page throughout the rest of her time in college. In the future, she would like to work in communications for an environmental organization.

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Hope Karnopp

state news writer

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