This September, citizen advocates, non-profit organizations, foundations, businesses, and thought leaders from across the country convened in Baltimore, Md., to take part in the inaugural Playful City USA Leaders’ Summit, sponsored by the Humana Foundation. Over two days, these leaders discussed the policies and practices they incorporate to make their cities more playful places for kids, families, and communities to stay healthy and active together. One fun and unique innovation that emerged during the summit discussions was presented by Mayor Laurie Gill of Pierre, S.D., where the city has been working to install play pods along the local trail system.
One of the most alarming health problems facing the city of Pierre, South Dakota is childhood obesity; nearly two-thirds of children are either overweight or obese and similar trends can be observed in the city’s adult population. Identified as a food desert, the city has undertaken efforts to address the lack of access to fresh, healthy food by ensuring its availability in local markets and through encouraging a culture shift in local eating habits.
Recognized as a Playful City USA community since 2012, Pierre also values the role of play in fighting childhood obesity. To that end, the city is working to eliminate play deserts, so that children have access to the play opportunities they need to grow into healthy, happy, and productive adults.
In 2009, Pierre received a grant from the Center for Disease Control and National Recreation and Park Association’s ACHIEVE (Action Communities for Health, Innovation, and EnVironmental change) initiative, which allowed the city to concentrate on improving nutrition in schools and promoting physical activity through parks and trails.
Beginning with the idea of encouraging trail use and transportation around town for bikers and walkers, the city set out to improve existing infrastructure by installing mile markers and garbage bins along paths. The city is also seeking to advance a policy that requires new development to create walking and bike paths. Adding to these efforts, Pierre has decided to incorporate the concept of Play Trails into their efforts to improve community health and wellness.
According to Mindy Cheap, the recreation superintendant for the Pierre Parks and Recreation Department, the idea of creating play trails caught on because of a desire to get kids and families to use local trails. While Pierre has an extensive system of over 50 miles of trails, most users have tended to be adult bikers and joggers. “Pocket parks,” says Cheap, “have the ability to get whole families out and moving together.”
The city plans to place play pods (or pocket parks) along the 4th Street Trail where, says Cheap, residents of that part of the city do not have access to many options for play. While original ACHIEVE funding financed three play pods, an additional $30,000 grant from Avera Health is allowing the city to create a total of five pocket parks along the trail.
With nature themes such as spiders, rocks, prairie pot holes, butterflies, and pond life, the mini-playgrounds will incorporate the natural beauty of Pierre’s scenic landscape while creating a fun and engaging outdoor experience for kids. With plans to have the Play Trail complete by the end of summer, the city is also working to create a curriculum for teachers so that students can enjoy an active, outdoor learning experience. In all, by creating the Play Trail, which links to Pierre’s other neighborhoods, the city is showing its dedication to ensuring the access to play, learning, and physical activity its youngest residents need and deserve.
Pierre’s concept of a Play Trail is just one idea to come out of the Playful City USA Leaders’ Summit that other communities can borrow to infuse play into their local landscapes, whether on a long trail or a walking path to school. Stay posted for more innovative ideas from the summit and our many Playful City USA communities.