Health initiatives abound this summer

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Column: Ellen Kehr, Guest Column

Do you live in Freeborn County? Take our online survey about recreation and active living. The purpose of the survey is to learn about what local resources community members are using and how much our communities are bikeable and walkable. By taking the survey, you will be entered to win $50! Just go to Hard copies of the survey are available at the Albert Lea Public Library and the Senior Center.

Ellen Kehr

One of the lessons we learned from the Blue Zones/Vitality Project is that communities that design transportation networks for bikers and walkers benefit from increased property values, reduced transportation costs, increased parking efficiency and increased local activity. Having safe and accessible sidewalks, crosswalks, trails and bike lanes provide increased opportunities for physical activity for residents of all ages. By investing in a healthy environment and increasing access to affordable recreational facilities, we can insure that all residents of Freeborn County have the opportunity to make choices that allow them to live a long and healthy life. Sustaining healthy, active lifestyles is a challenge that takes a commitment not just on the part of the individual but also on the part of the community. In Freeborn County, we are meeting that challenge.

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The Statewide Health Improvement Program, along with local governments and many other community partners, is working to give Freeborn County residents the ability to access free and low cost recreational activities and engage in safe and active lifestyles.

The city of Albert Lea has made a significant commitment to active community design by adopting a complete streets policy, filling in sidewalk gaps. The Front Street bike lanes are being built this spring, and in response to city efforts, the Minnesota Department of Transportation has also filled in sidewalks gaps on state roads within the city.

Freeborn County is working on acquiring an abandoned rail line that runs from Hartland to Albert Lea, and regionally, the Blazing Star Trail will extend to Hayward and eventually on to Austin. Partnerships and collaborations are occurring within all sectors because we know that even in tough economic times, working together, we can continue to move forward in promoting good community design and active living.

Partnering with local governments, schools and other community organizations SHIP has collaborated on many projects to create permanent environmental change. The City of Albert Lea received funding for paint, signage and kiosks for the bike lanes and trails around Fountain Lake. Hayward will install bike racks and signage at the trail head of the Blazing Star Trail and Riverland Community College has a new 18-hole disc golf course! The course is free and open to the public so if you have never played, try it.

Working with numerous community organizations, investments in new equipment also helped to make the “Active Living Initiative” a success. SHIP has provided funding for bike racks, adaptive swings, snowshoes, free weights, Pickle Ball, camping equipment, canoes, archery equipment and bicycles. It is very encouraging to see so many people working together to create healthy changes in their communities, and SHIP has been privileged to partner with many of them.

To keep residents up to date on community events that involve healthy and active lifestyles, SHIP has created a web site Visit us and check out all the fun stuff that is going on. Currently in print is the Healthy Freeborn County Community Resource Guide. This book will be available, free of charge, at places where people gather around Freeborn County.

Of course, “kids just want to have fun!” so SHIP is sponsoring a Bike Rodeo that will be held at Southwest Middle School from 9 to 11 a.m. May 21. At this event, we will be giving away free bike helmets, doing maintenance checks, learning about bicycle safety and just plain having fun! The Albert Lea Police Department, local firefighters and experienced cyclists will be at hand to share their expertise with our young riders. SHIP has had tremendous support from so many community partners and we appreciate each one.

This summer, as a “Fun in the Sun” family event, Ship is sponsoring three free swimming days at the Albert Lea Aquatic Center. These free swims will take place on June 18, July 16 and Aug. 13, and everyone is welcome, so mark your calendars. This summer make a commitment to good health. Get together with your family and friends and make an investment in your future. Get out, get active and enjoy what Minnesota does best!

Ellen Kehr is the Freeborn County SHIP coordinator.