Magazine article Parks & Recreation

A Community Health Initiative Takes Flight: A Hawaii Community Fulfills Its Desire for Healthy Recreation by Redeveloping Old Kona Airport State Park

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

A Community Health Initiative Takes Flight: A Hawaii Community Fulfills Its Desire for Healthy Recreation by Redeveloping Old Kona Airport State Park

Article excerpt

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In 2003, Friends for Fitness, a Kona, Hawaii, community coalition, found themselves jogging uphill against the need for a safe, level place for recreation. The group was already accustomed to giving presentations and leading small, onetime physical activity events, but they decided that the only way to really impact the community was to create this desperately needed place for recreation. The community that Friends for Fitness represented had a terrain that wasn't suitable for walking and a lack of sidewalks compounded the problem. But soon, a new idea took off: the redevelopment of the trail at the Old Kona Airport, now a park site in need of some major grooming.

Background

Friends of Fitness knew the importance of exercise long before they delved into their trail project. Although the health benefits of regular physical activity are well-documented, in 2005, more than 50 percent of U.S. adults did not meet the recommendation of having 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on five or more days per week, or engage in vigorous physical activity for at least 20 minutes on three or more days per week. In addition to reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, breast cancer and colon cancer, physical activity can also help to control weight, alleviate arthritis pain and reduce the symptoms of depression.

Studies have also shown that the built environment plays a part in the health of communities. Communities that do not have accessible and safe areas to recreate tend to have a higher rate of residents who do not meet the recommended physical activity levels, and are thus at greater risk for a host of chronic diseases. The Guide to Community Preventive Services (www. the communityguide.org/pa), a compilation of systematic reviews of population-based interventions designed to increase physical activity levels, has, with strong evidence, recommended that "creating or improving access to places for physical activity is recommended to increase physical activity."

According to the Hawaii Department of Health, in 2004, more than 50 percent of the residents of West Hawaii are at risk for being overweight or obese. Additionally, 42 percent of the residents do not meet the recommended levels of physical activity. To address this important health issue and to improve the health of Hawaii residents, Friends for Fitness West Hawaii Community Coalition was established in 1992. Their mission is to create and promote a healthy, livable and physically active community. Friends for Fitness realized that if they could develop a safe and accessible area for Kona residents to walk, bike and be physically active, they could improve the health of their community.

The Project

Initially, the goal of the project was to clear debris and overgrown foliage fom the existing walking path, beautify the area and increase trail use for community members. The project has since turned into something much more for the community.

"What we've created here is a viable place to make a difference in the health and wellness of our community," says Friends for Fitness former Executive Director Heidi Stromberg. "Maka'eo is one of the only parks in Kona. It's the only safe public place for walking."

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The state-owned Old Kona Airport State Park had been in disrepair for at least two decades, but once the word spread that it was being revitalized, assistance came in from a number of sources. Friends for Fitness received a Centennial grant from the local Rotary Club, which was critical in financing the equipment and tools to clear brush and debris from the path. The grant money also paid to contract a local development company to excavate the center of the park, which was full of stubborn blue rock that was difficult to remove.

Friends for Fitness received funding from the Healthy Hawaii Initiative, charged with encouraging Hawaiians to live healthier lifestyles, to revitalize the park and implement physical activity interventions. …

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