Jamestown, ND Embraces a Trail Stay-cation to Improve Health

This is a guest blog post by Robin Iszler in celebration of Parks and Recreation Month. Robin has been working in public health since 1988 when she was hired as a secretary at Central Valley Health District in Jamestown North Dakota. After graduating as a nurse she continued her public health career and has worked in many local public health programs. In 2006 Robin became the Unit administrator of Central Valley Health District and oversees the entire health department, programs and staff and brings together various community agencies to improve the health status of the community.  Robin has been involved in several National Public Health projects her health department became the first in North Dakota to receive national public health accreditation status. The Central Valley Health District received a Community Change Grant in 2016.  

It is easy to become familiar with the landscape at the places we live, learn, work, and play. I was struck by this fact when a recent effort to market walking in our community was aimed towards tourists and it totally forgot about the hundreds of people who are here every day. Yes, it is important to generate more business commence in our city and attract people to visit, but when it comes to a healthy community, we cannot forget those who reside here. How do we make the healthy choice the easy choice for everyday citizens?

Marking the Trail
Signs encourage visitors to learn more about our town

I have been lucky to travel to various cities throughout the county where signage directing walkers was evident throughout the area I was visiting. While certainly these signs were helpful for a tourist like me, the signs were not just there for the purpose of the occasional visitor. These signs were part of the culture of the community and offered a way to make a healthier choice for those everyday citizens as well as tourists.   Signed trails or signed street areas help encourage people to walk, much like an activity tracker– signs let walkers know distance traveled and can even list the number of steps to a given point. People like to be motivated to make healthy changes and making changes can lead to habits and healthier choices.   Signed areas are simple reminders and provide the walker with a time estimate of what it takes to get from point A to point B and knowing this information can help you make a decision – I can do this in 10 minutes and be back.   Our public health goal should be to increase the number of steps you take throughout the day and change the culture of what America has become– a motorized society.

Our city has a robust tourism agency which has a goal to attract people to eat, play, and stay. There is plenty to see here – who else can claim to have the World’s largest buffalo, a 26-foot-tall, 60-ton concrete giant standing watch over Jamestown since 1959.   To add to the City’s attraction, our tourism agency developed a talking trail which marks a 70-stop route throughout the city and allows listeners to hear audio accounts of the history of the stops. Sounds like a great thing to do on vacation!

But seriously we go from NO marked trails within the City, to a full fledge talking trail and we marketed it only to tourists! I don’t think it’s feasible for me to take my lunch and hit 70 talking trail sites in a half hour!

Opportunity to Collaborate

A partnership between the local public health department and tourism seems like an unlikely pair, and after the first meeting, I was not sure we could be on the same mission. With a little work, the opportunity to collaborate and join two individual project ideas became a reality.   We need to collaborate since resources are stretched these days and forming unlikely partnerships seems to be a way to maximize efforts and get more bang for a buck!

New signs encourage locals and tourists alike to be more active.

The result of the collaboration was this: a designated signed walking route located in downtown Jamestown that crossed several areas of the talking trail. The downtown walking area would then be marketed to local citizens as a way to encourage walking downtown. The collaboration would use the signs already in place for the talking trail and add to those signs smaller markers that encourage you to walk from here to there.   We would also create brochures about local walking trails within the city and include signed downtown walking path and talking trail. These brochures could also be placed at places tourists stop, but more importantly they could be given to local citizens.

The collaboration was a success! People are becoming aware of the walking areas in our city. While hard to exactly measure the success based on numbers using the path, there certainly is talk around town about increased exposure to walking areas.   Next steps for the group include a bike fleet and more awareness about biking trails.   Bottom line – it pays to collaborate to improve health even if it is just one sign at a time!