Paving the way for fun and fitness
There is a growing concern among health professionals about the decreasing quality of our country's collective health. Much has been made of this problem but unfortunately, most Americans don't appear to be listening. Studies confirm that as a whole people are living increasingly unhealthy lifestyles. According to the American Obesity Association, approximately 15.5 percent of adolescents (ages 12 to 19) and 15.3 percent of children (ages 6 to 11) are obese — a 10 percent increase over the last two decades. More shocking is the fact that this statistic is thought to be generous compared to other studies that claim childhood obesity affects as many as 25 to 30 percent of American children.
"Overweight and obesity have been linked to higher risks of serious diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Today, some nine-million American children — triple the number in 1980 — are overweight, and more than 80 percent of U.S. children eat too much fat," said Dr. Greg Paul, protein expert, and director of global health and nutrition for The Solae Company. Combined with physical activity such as using a playground, a healthy diet including soy protein can help children maintain healthy body weight.
Childhood obesity may be the most commonly discussed health concern today, but adults of all ages are battling the same problem. Only for adults, obesity can be life-threatening. The American Heart Association reports cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for both adult men and women. And according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 55 percent of all Americans age 50 and older are at risk for osteoporosis, and 10 million are estimated to already have the disease. While these statistics are startling, the conditions that put adults at risk for the disease can be prevented by leading active, healthier lives.
One step in the right direction is the trend toward developing parks that focus on providing multigenerational fitness for the entire family. Specifically designed to promote fun and fitness for people of all ages and abilities, custom-designed multigenerational destination parks provide an outdoor environment with multiple activities of varying intensities to encourage every member of a community to use the park's amenities. The design allows park-goers to have multiple activities to choose from, giving families plenty of reasons to return to the facility. The result is a state-of-the-art park that provides an alternative and more manageable solution to keeping the whole family entertained while staying active.
As multigenerational destination parks become increasingly popular across the country, the days of rusty swing sets and slides are quickly fading. To accommodate destination park development, recreation equipment manufacturers are producing far more than just playgrounds. Leisure and exercise equipment such as climbing walls and boulders, skate parks, and adult wellness stations are becoming extremely popular because they provide alternative options to traditional park equipment like tennis and basketball courts.
For instance, climbing structures may appeal to older children who get bored with the standard playground and desire a more rigorous challenge — one they can create for themselves. There is only one way to go down a slide, but climbing structures provide multiple routes up and countless paths back to the bottom. Similarly, skate parks are ideal for teenage extreme sports enthusiasts.
Everyone has to work hard to stay fit, but sometimes playing hard can be just as beneficial. Playgrounds encourage children to run, climb, crawl and leap, meanwhile developing their fine motor skills and raising their heart rates. Encouraging active play in a park setting encourages children to become more accustomed to physically challenging activities, which helps draw kids away from the television and get them into an active lifestyle. Skating and climbing equipment have a similar effect on teenagers. What feels like play is actually a full-body workout. Skaters and bikers will spend hours at the skate park doing what they love while building strength and increasing flexibility and balance.
Along a similar path, wellness stations help older adults (an age group that is more prone to disease) exercise their cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Strength-building and flexibility exercises are additionally beneficial for protecting aging bodies from arthritis.
The Nations First Multi-Generational Destination Park
The Lewisburg Area Recreation Park in Lewisburg, Penn., is the premiere example of the positive influence a destination park can have on a community. Since its opening, the Lewisburg location has become a magnet for the community with seniors using newly installed exercise stations on its walking paths, kids playing on the multiple new playgrounds, and teens and young adults performing stunts on skate park equipment. By combining all of these activities in one place, Lewisburg has created a destination park that attracts local residents and those from surrounding communities.
"Local parks provide opportunities for wellness and recreation, an enjoyment of the outdoors, and help in efforts to revitalize neighborhoods and communities," Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Secretary Michael DiBerardinis says.
The park is already drawing people from more than 100 miles away, principally families and large groups, who want to experience this new breed of recreation destination. During weekends, park officials have reported seeing more than 1,000 visitors per day. Some kids spend entire days there, not wanting to leave because of all the activities available to them, including a swimming pool, basketball court, tennis courts, and seasonal ice skating rink. The creation of a destination park has turned into a gathering place for the entire family as well as tourists from other areas of the state.
In summer, busloads full of people disembarked in Lewisburg to use the facility. From church groups to family reunions, the new recreation destination is an inviting place where all are welcome.
Strong community spirit in Lewisburg extends far beyond the borders of the park. One of the park's greatest attributes is that it fosters the involvement of an entire community. Parks give people a place to meet others who share their interests, are involved at the same schools, root for the same sports teams, and frequent the same grocery stores and restaurants. Destination parks take this function a step further by attracting more people of different ages than a typical park and then helping them connect through activities that cater to their individual ages and interests. For instance, skateboarders may meet a group of friends at the skate park or older adults may befriend others in similar stages of their lives using the wellness equipment. The result is a tight-knit community that prides itself on the common relationships, businesses, and public facilities it shares.
Park users are more inclined to stay committed to regular physical activity if they have a network of friends participating with them. This is especially true among older adults who may not be as confident in their strength abilities or teenagers who are just beginning to learn challenging new stunts.
Park organizations are additionally helping citizens stay involved in their local parks with educational programs that provide instruction on how to properly use the park's recreation equipment. Months after launching the grand opening of the Lewisburg destination park, the Buffalo Valley Recreation Authority (BVRA) is now working with a local hospital to start a Lifetrail club. According to Greg Weitzel, the program will grant participants access to health lectures and personal orientation sessions of the equipment. Ideally, this extra outreach will help introduce residents to the park's equipment and make them feel more comfortable using it.
Weitzel says one of the most important components of the construction of the Lewisburg park was the local community. Not only has the park given residents an innovative facility in which they can socialize, but a place where they can continue to build strong community ties while encouraging play and healthy living.
An additional benefit of developing a destination park is the effect it will have on the local economy. The Lewisburg park is an excellent example of a public-private partnership centered on a mutual goal to better a community. A destination park can help put a town on the map and increase traffic to other attractions. Like any new attraction, a destination park will initially draw curious patrons simply because it is new — similar to a new mall, community pool, or large retail outlet being built.
Once established, the park will not only become the town's staple of recreation but share its success with the entire community. Increased traffic will help strengthen existing businesses and stimulate new business growth. Just as ski shops are more successful in mountainous areas, and beach shops near beaches, stores that cater to families, skaters, bikers, and walkers are all likely to succeed near a destination park.
Property values have the potential to rise as a result of increased business. Over time, these characteristics will attract new families and couples looking to relocate and businesses hoping to expand. Property values of the homes directly surrounding the park stand to see the largest increase. According to a study conducted by The Trust for Public Land in Salem, Ore., urban land located directly next to a green belt was worth $1,200 more per acre than urban land only 1,000 feet away.
These parks also help local economies by boosting tourism. Residents from nearby communities and other parts of the state who are drawn to specific elements of the park will travel to the city for those activities. Because destination parks bring drastically different activities together at one location, families will find them fitting to their individual needs and an ideal location for their next family vacation or weekend trip.
Building a Destination Park
Perhaps the only challenge to building such an elaborate facility is the initial cost for development. The process can be somewhat costly, but there are a number of ways a community can successfully see to the construction of a destination park without straining the community.
One of the best places to start a campaign is by advocating the benefits to the community in order to build support for such a location. If the local residents and businesses are educated about the strengths of building a destination park and the needs that such a park would meet, they are more likely to support its construction by volunteering their time on fundraising projects. Once the community is in support of the park, other fundraising activities as well as corporate and community partnerships will materialize. In the case of Lewisburg, a local business was heavily involved with the park district to help the project come to fruition. There are a lot of different opportunities for businesses to become involved with local government that would make a financial donation extremely palatable.
Another option is to work with state officials to secure grants to help build the park. Local and state political leaders are always looking for ways to improve their communities. A destination park is a logical and fairly straightforward way to do just that. In Lewisburg, government officials were extremely important in moving the process of creating the park along.
The Lewisburg park has come a long way since the idea of a multigenerational recreation facility was conceived. Despite the park's success thus far, park officials still face years of hard work to maintain the facilities and natural environment. For any community hoping to build a similar park, Weitzel suggests rallying community support and involvement of the project. Such enthusiasm, Weitzel says, will evolve into great care and enthusiasm of the facility once it is built.
This park is an enormous asset to the entire Lewisburg area and the town is grateful to Playworld Systems and BVRA, as well as the many other companies, state agencies, and people who have helped make the park a reality," said Lewisburg Mayor Judith Wagner. "I am sure the park will be enjoyed by many people throughout the region for years to come."
As we move towards a new generation of public parks, expect to see more, larger landscapes in line with the concepts and goals of the multigenerational destination park. These parks have the potential to completely revitalize the physical, relational, and economic well-being of an entire community. The concept is simple - provide an extensive variety of activities to appeal to every member of a community and people will have an easy opportunity to live healthier and happier lives.