Creating Steps to a Healthier You through WalkWorks

Walking—we do it every day. When we want to get somewhere, we walk. Sure, we may incorporate other modes of transportation into our lives, such as driving a car, riding a bike or using public transit, but we start and end every trip by walking.

We also choose our walking speed. When we have to get somewhere quickly, we speed walk. When we take the dog out or want to experience the outdoors, our pace slows. Walking is one of the simplest and easiest forms of physical activity – it’s free and requires no special equipment or athletic skill.

Yet, in 2017, one quarter of Pennsylvania adults indicated participating in no physical activity in the past month, while more than two thirds of adults were overweight or obese. Walking is an important part of our lives and can improve our overall health. Health benefits of walking include helping to control weight, reducing the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and enhancing mental well-being.

Why don’t we walk more?

In many locations across Pennsylvania, lack of access to areas where residents can safely walk or bicycle is cited as one of the reasons for poor physical health. Communities and their streets were rarely designed to enable simultaneous, safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders. However, streets designed for all modes of transportation, called Complete Streets, make it easier to cross the street, get to school, walk to shops, or bicycle to work and, therefore, are associated with increased physical activity. Complete Streets not only promotes good health and creates health equity, but it can also stimulate the local economy, improve road safety, reduce the amount of air pollution and improve mobility for children and older individuals.

WalkWorks – What is it?

To encourage walking and help more Pennsylvanians meet the national guidelines which call for adults to get at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week, the Pennsylvania Department of Health developed WalkWorks. WalkWorks seeks to encourage communities to support physical activity by promoting active transportation through the implementation of community-based walking routes and the development of plans or policies related to active transportation. Here are two upcoming opportunities to partner with WalkWorks:

WalkWorks affiliate program

Local community-based organizations interested in improving the health status of their communities can apply to become a WalkWorks affiliate. Joining the 89 walking routes in 21 counties across Pennsylvania, selected community-based partners:

• Identify a walking route and points of interests;

• Engage community stakeholders;

• Collaborate with community organizations; and

• Organize a kick-off celebration.

While a specific date to release the affiliate application has not yet been determined, it is expected to be released in August or September. To see if the application has been released, please visit the WalkWorks website.

Marcus Hook walking route, Delaware County

WalkWorks funding for active transportation plans or policies

Municipalities and similar types of local government organizations interested in enhancing active transportation through plans or policies can apply for WalkWorks funding to develop plans or policies that begin to prioritize active transportation. This funding opportunity, which will open on or around August 1, creates or enhances pedestrian and bicycle connections to common community destinations that allow people to recreate, shop, explore or socialize safely and conveniently. To view the application or apply, please visit the WalkWorks website after August 1.

Whether you are a community resident looking for opportunities to increase your physical activity or a local government official looking to improve the walkability and connectivity of your community, WalkWorks has resources, guides and funding opportunities that can help improve the overall health of your community.

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Pennsylvania Park and Recreation Professionals Day is July 19

PRPS_Park&Recreation_ProfessionalsDayIt’s a safe bet we can all agree on the following. That when:

•   you visit a park, it is clean, safe, and ready to use.
•   your family goes swimming, the lifeguards are well-trained and the water quality is optimal.
•   your grandchild visits the playground, you know it is maintained to all safety standards.
•   your loved one with a disability wants to camp, swim, paddle or fish, all facilities are well-marked, well-maintained and easily accessible.
•   you attend a public festival, all safety and security systems are capable and functioning.
•   your elderly parents look for enriching and companionable activities, they can always find them.
•   your children attend day camp, you are certain of their safe and appropriate physical, cognitive and social development.
•   you visit urban woodlands, gardens and greenspaces, the attractive assets are well-cared for and healthy.
•   your teens participate in youth sports, they thrive in the coaching, playing, and growing.
•   you want to bike to the park, grocery store, library or work, you are able to make those connections, free from all hazards.

I believe we can agree that these are all reasonable expectations of our park and recreation facilities and programs. And since they are, it is fitting to credit the park and recreation professionals who provide them.

The third Friday in July is Pennsylvania Park and Recreation Professionals Day. It honors the men and women who work tirelessly behind the scenes to provide the high quality programs and facilities we desire and expect in our parks and public spaces.

On July 19, we invite all Pennsylvanians to visit a park and enjoy its facilities and services in a tribute to all our park and recreation providers. And just perhaps they’ll mention a little thanks to the programmer, manager, maintainer, landscaper, facilitator, lifeguard, coach, event organizer or caretaker.

If you have a public event on or near Friday, July 19, we encourage you to make it an official Park and Recreation Professionals Day celebration, with special promotions and publicity. Invite your elected officials and allow them to eye-witness and publicly acknowledge your value to the community at large. Download the resources of the promotional toolkit here to assist in your local preparations. 

Park and Recreation Professionals Day is celebrated during National Park and Recreation Month, and is a function of the Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society.

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Inmates Play More Than Our Children

girl playing baseball

In a recent Workshop I attended that was sponsored by a local Playground Manufacturer, I watched an impactful video showcasing inmates from U.S. prisons enjoying their recreation time.  I learned that inmates in the US are required to have 2-hours of recreation per day.  The inmates beamed as they discussed their recreation time and the guards supported this requirement and defined it as imperative for population control and management.  The inmates and guards were then asked how reducing recreation time to  ½-hour – 1-hour per day would impact life in prison.  The reaction was similar, as both inmates and guards stated that a reduction in recreation would create a state of anarchy in the prisons.

In America, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and many other organizations recommend our children should get 60 minutes (1-hour) of physical activity/play/recreation per day.  Yet, our children struggle to average 4 hours of physical play per week, which along with poor dietary habits, has resulted in a national obesity epidemic and for the first time in history, experts are predicting average life spans to actually start decreasing.   Although, our youth have the time to average over 5-hours per week utilizing some sort of electronic device.

As obesity becomes America’s primary healthcare concern, many communities are decreasing budgets for parks and play areas and schools are cutting or eliminating physical education  As your read this article,  your holding the key component to opportunities unrivalled by any community in our state or region with programs, special events, parks, trails and amenities to live healthy.

Adding Some Spice to a Stale Relationship

Young couple having relationship problemsPlus 6 tips for better abs, and 7 great ideas for holiday gifts!

We are so conditioned to look for a time saving fix or an easy upgrade to fix anything in our lives that is feeling tired or old or used or outdated – and yet we content ourselves with our current facilities because any change seems too hard, too expensive, or too out of reach.

But have no fear – there may be hope.  in 2009 and 2011 our agency completely renovated two swimming pools – and I mean completely.  We tore out everything down to the hole in the ground – pools, bath houses, utilities…everything.  And we rebuilt.  And the new facilities were a smashing success.  Revenues and attendance more than doubled, and the pools became operationally self-sustaining.  Yay! We met our goals!

But that was, like, so 8 years ago.  The honeymoon is over.  Our community, which used to be super excited at the new pools, is now conditioned to expect that level of entertainment.  So what’s next?  Well, as much as we’d love to spend another $1 million on a flowrider surf machine, that’s just waaaaay outside of the budget picture.aquatics_slide_show_2_0

So how can we add some spice to this stale relationship that the public is having with our facility?  Lucky for me we live in PA and have this thing called ‘Winter’ that lets me do some research and admin work to find solutions.

1. Toys.  Toys are fun.  They cost money – but they can be an easy way to immediately change the recreation atmosphere at a facility.  For the pools, we added a climbing wall and a floating obstacle course (ours is a Wibit, but there are others out there).  We’re also looking at giant hamster balls, log rolling, zip lines, noodle jousting on inflatable ducks – and lots of other ideas.  We had instant success with purchasing these items for public use.  Indoor facilities have many similar features available – just do some research.

2.  Programs.  We regularly try new programs at the pools.  Three years ago we worked with our high school diving coach to add springboard diving lessons to go along with our already robust swim lesson program.  Last year we borrowed the Start Smart program concept and ran swim lessons where our instructor-led parents through a course teaching their own kids to swim.

3.  Events.  Disco night?  Maybe a little outdated, but what about a dance night with a DJ or live band?  Cardboard boat races?  Dog swim?  Fishing Derby after the season?  Pool-o-Ween?  There are lots of ideas already out there – or you can combine some and make your own!

Those are just a few ideas, but really here are the key points:

  •  Make the time to regularly evaluate your facilities and operations.  Get rid of stale programs or events.  Create new ones to replace them.
  • Budget for some new items, even if you have to spread the purchases over a few years.  They can make an immediate impact.
  • Do some research.  Thanks to the internet there are tons of ideas out there already.  You often don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just borrow ideas from other successful facilities!  You can also get a lot of great ideas from conferences and expos.

As for the 6 tips for better abs:

1. Eat Less

2. Eat Better

3. Exercise more

4. Repeat

And the 7 holiday gift ideas?

1. Ask them what they want.  7 times.

Recreation and Parks’ Internet of Things

How parks and recreation contribute to everything important!

Love ParkHow parks and recreation contribute to everything important!

In the spirit of bringing holistic thinking and collaborative services to solving people problems, this simple list depicts how park and recreation systems contribute to improving personal and community living. By no means is it comprehensive, so please add your suggestions to expand this view!

Health & Wellness
Healthcare Costs
Healthcare Delivery
Medical Recovery & Immune Benefits
Connection to Nature for Human Health
Alleviation of Stress, Depression & AD disorders
Physical Activity & Healthy Lifestyles
Physical, Mental, Emotional Therapy
Mitigate Obesity and Chronic Diseases
Youth & Family Development
Nutrition, Healthy Food Production & Choices
Preventative Treatment for Criminal & Risky Behaviors
Prevention & Response for Opioids & Drug Abuse
Improved Functioning of People with Special Needs
Evidence-based Health Improvement Programs
Tobacco Bans in Public Spaces

Environmental Sustainability
Wildlife Habitat Preservation
Carbon Sequestration
Water Quality & Supply
Wetlands Protection & Riparian Buffers
Biodiversity
Energy Costs & Conservation
Pollution Reduction
Air Quality
Connections to Nature
Brownfields Restoration
Climate Change
Preservation & Conservation
Heat Island Reduction
Natural Resource Management
Stormwater Management
Conservation Best Practices

Social Equity
Community & Neighborhood Engagement
Access to Economic and Socio-cultural Goods
Diversity & Inclusion
Cross-cultural Respect & Interaction
Gentrification
Children & Youth Services
Child Nutrition & Food Distribution
Equal Access to Parks & Recreation Services
Underserved Populations
Health Disparities
Neighborhood Green Spaces
Social Justice & Public Administration
Workforce Development

Economic Stimulation
Destination Tourism
Placemaking & Events
Concessions & Vendors
Connective Trails, Water Trails
Recreational and Cultural Attractions
Business Development & Attraction
Employment & Workforce Development
Recreation & Sports Equipment Sales
Property Values
Zoning & Enterprise Districts
Outdoor Recreation Industry
Growth of the Sharing Economy

Infrastructure & Resiliency
Multimodal transportation
Urban Planning
Traffic Mitigation
Caretaking & Maintenance
Gentrification
Trail Access & Connectivity
Stormwater Management
Disaster & Emergency Preparedness
“Clean, Safe & Ready-to-Use”
Streetscapes
Climate Change Adaptation & Mitigation
Landscape Architectural Design
Facilities & Resource Management
Technologies & Work Automation
Big Data & Anticipatory Intelligence

People Development
Community Leadership
Teambuilding and Collaborations
Personal Productivity & Creativity
Student Achievement & Engagement
Risk Resilience
Creative Play
Physical, Cognitive, Social & Emotional Development
Experiential & Lifelong Learning

Community Livability
Safety & Crime Mitigation
Placemaking
Historical and Cultural Preservation
Community Engagement
Forums for Public Art, Entertainment & Expression
Children & Youth Services
Safeguard Park Visitors and Recreationists
Public Spaces & Green Infrastructure
Urban Blight Mitigation
Connective Trails
Public-Private Partnerships
Business Development & Attraction
Research, Public Education & Advocacy

Recreation & Leisure
Aquatics & Athletics
Parks and Park Amenities
Arenas and Event Venues
Concessions and Supplies
Healthy Competition
Nature & Environmental Centers
Hunting & Fishing
Active & Passive Leisure Activities
Cultural & Historical Interpretation
Public Assets & Spaces
Community Gardens & Special Use Spaces
Integrated Services across Disciplines & Jurisdictions
Positive Youth, Family & Adult Development
Quality & Enrichment of Life

A Tangible Reminder

Remind Finger

A few years ago I decided to rip out our hallway restroom while my wife and son went away for the long Columbus Day weekend. The vanity and lighting were from the 70’s, the door and some of the vinyl flooring was chewed up from a puppy training experiment gone wrong, and everything was in a desperate need of an update. Now I consider myself “handy-ish”, but not an expert by any stretch. I spent the next four days demoing, picking out new finishes, paint colors, watching some Youtube tutorials on cutting angles for trim and wainscoting, and largely living in that 8 x 6 area like it was a cell from Shawshank Redemption. After my second 18 hour day, I was beginning to daydream about what else I could have done with all my “me time”. It mostly consisted of seeing how far into an NHL season I could get on my PS3, or how many hours of binge watching the latest peak TV series I’d relinquished in hopes of surprising my family.

By mid-day Monday of that Columbus Day weekend, the transformation was beginning to take shape and by the time my family arrived home later that evening, we had an entirely new bathroom. From the mirror and lighting to the sink and vanity to the flooring and wall treatment, everything was updated. Beyond surprising my family and seeing their smiles, I sat back and felt proud about the work I had put in. There was a visible transformation in front of me that I was responsible for.

I often think about projects such as this while I’m sitting behind a computer at work. I think about how tangible and immediate the satisfaction of that project was and how in our line of work that isn’t always the case. Now yes, there are special events, park and trail projects as well as new facility construction that scratch that visual satisfaction itch. Something as simple as a clean pool or a freshly cut athletic field can give me that feeling too. What I’m referring to is the day to day administrative grind of reviewing budget numbers, facility bookings, programming, payroll, insurance and preparing report after report after report. And yes, there are some that really enjoy a great spreadsheet or pie chart, and I can appreciate that as well (where my excel-heads at?!), but it never comes close to the satisfaction gained from a concrete accomplishment.

It was around this time that I found myself at one of our parks in the evening. It was such a different environment than the daytime crowd that we experience during business hours. It hummed with activity as tennis lessons and pick up-basketball created the rhythm section for the evening’s soundtrack. The athletic fields were in full swing, and friends chatted leisurely as they meandered around the walking trail. Children buzzed through the playground equipment with their imaginations in full overdrive. It. Was. Awesome! It was also a complete “duh” moment for me. THIS is the tangible outcome of the work we do!

Ever since that ah-ha moment, I’ve encouraged my staff to make sure they get out and experience the many accomplishments of all their time and energy. It can be as simple as popping into a program, or taking a day trip, or just going for a walk through a park or trail. The faces of the many individuals and families enjoying the work you’ve put in and seeing these wonderful facilities in use has been a much needed reminder of where to look for that visible, real time satisfaction. If you are like me, it’s all too easy to put in your eight (plus) hours staring at a screen, glued to a desk covered in papers. It is so vital to get out and experience the wheels you’ve help put in motion, born from the passion you’ve put into it, and to feel the pride that accompanies you when you sit back and take stock of your work. And if that doesn’t work, you can always renovate a bathroom.

I am the greatest…and so are you!!!

If I stood in front of one hundred random people and flashed a picture of the boxer to the left, and said, “Who is this?”, everyone would say, “It’s obviously Muhammad Ali.” If I pressed a little further and asked for an Ali quote, I am sure someone would tell the group that he famously said, “I am the greatest!.”

If I asked the audience the same question about the boxer to the right, how many would know his name? That gentleman is Mr. Sugar Ray Robinson, owner of a professional boxing record of 173 wins and 19 losses. Notwithstanding Ali’s boasts, Robinson is considered the greatest boxer of all time, but most of us have never heard of him.

You are probably wondering, where’s the analogy here? It’s all about perception. Ali was a master of public perception, while Robinson was just a master with the gloves. When it comes to park and recreation professionals, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has some of the best and brightest minds in the business. But at the end of the day, we all go back to our Boroughs, Townships, and Cities and our performance is evaluated almost exclusively by our residents and elected officials.

Therein lies your opportunity. Your community’s perception of your department, your programs and parks and ultimately, your value, can be steered by unleashing your inner Muhammad Ali! He wasn’t the greatest, but he said he was…and now the general public believes it.

There are a few ways you can cultivate public perception. Tell people about your successes. It sounds simple enough, but your community needs to know their investment in parks and recreation is worthwhile. It may be a pain in the butt, but every department should complete an end of year report with facts, figures, pictures and a clearly framed progression towards goals. Boast about your programs, your staff, your parks. Quantification is also useful, numbers mean something. I’ve started to use the iSOPARC (System for the Observing Play and Recreation in Communities) to leverage park user totals into data findings that are impactful. In 2017, I was able to report to my Board of Supervisors, that our parks had over 225,000 visitors that translated into a health care savings of $7.3M! Did I mention iSOPARC is completely free to use, all you need is an iPad!

Just as boxers (and WWE wrestlers) seek the championship belt, park and recreation professionals should also submit their best programs for awards. Our communities and elected officials have limited knowledge of the truly positive impact the parks and recreation field has on quality of life. But do you know what they do understand…awards. Elected officials love to come to ceremonies, shake hands, stand for photos and that is a good thing. That is part of their role, and part of your role should be delivering them those opportunities. Practically speaking, our residents have so many recreational pursuits they can take part in, its a competitive field. Pasting a big flashy gold sticker on your program flyer that says “award winner” instantly gives you credibility before you’ve even said, “want to sign up” or “25% sibling discount.”

You might be saying right now, I hate to boast, I hate to brag. The field of parks and recreation is an amazing profession. We teach kids to swim, ride bikes, feed families, combat obesity, breakdown barriers, reintroduce retirees to social networks, and so much more. That isn’t an “I am the greatest” speech, that is straight fact; we make people’s lives better. Tell your community you are awesome because you are.