Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Low-Risk Programming to Build Healthy Communities

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Low-Risk Programming to Build Healthy Communities

Article excerpt

A Colorado agency explores ways to get families active on a low budget

As obesity and depression become increasing concerns, health profes- sionals are making fitness and the outdoors focal points of patient prescriptions. This has created a platform for recreation agencies to effectively guide communities in a healthy direction.

There are many fitness profiles; some people prefer fitness classes, others want a fully equipped gym, while still more choose to exercise outside. As rec- reation professionals plan for each season, it is important to take into consid- eration the reasons why individuals are motivated to become more active and the types of activities they will pursue. Recreation professionals need to look at the underserved demographics in their communities, striving to bring new faces into their parks and get families moving together.

Implementing new programs can pose challenges for agencies, especially if there is no way to speculate partic- ipation numbers and the overall suc- cess of a program. From the consumer standpoint, jumping into something new can be intimidating and may pose a financial risk. Keeping operating costs low is a benefit to the agency and will help to provide free and low-cost programs for the community.

Palisade, Colorado, is an agricul- tural community of 3,000, surround- ed by vast desert and alpine country with more than 300 miles of trails and open space. The demographics are composed of families on fixed incomes, farmers, wine makers, mi- grant workers and many retired indi- viduals with disposable income.

As a young recreation department, determining the needs of the com- munity has been a trial-and-error process. Without knowing which programs would be successful, it was important that programs were low- risk in order to run them multiple times to build interest without caus- ing major debts to the budget. Pali- sade is known for a variety of special events; with access to a large audi- ence, it is easy to introduce active components that naturally comple- ment the event. Some examples in- clude guided hikes and yoga offered during the Palisade Bluegrass and Roots Festival, old-fashioned games added to the annual Town Council ice-cream social, activity demos at the farmers' market, and simple ob- stacle courses set up for youth after school. Other agencies might consid- er including a mini sports challenge as part of a special event, such as a pitching competition or hoops chal- lenge. Showcasing these activities during special events has helped the department to determine which ac- tivities can stand alone as programs.

Simplicity is another key compo- nent when working to keep the cost low for agencies and consumers. Be- ginner and 101 programs are appeal- ing to adults, allowing participants the opportunity to test the waters with little risk involved. Each summer, Pal- isade Recreation partners with the local bike shop to offer introductory paddleboard classes on the ponds in Riverbend Park. The same instructors have offered rafting 101 classes and charged the town nominal fees to of- fer evening float trips. REI offered free snowshoe demos, which has since developed into a regular winter pro- gram. Running has become popular, and many people who are getting into better shape set goals to run a 5K race. Palisade recently offered a "train for a 5K" program, an eight-week class pre- paring participants to run in a race put on by nearby Grand Junction Parks and Recreation. …

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