Park Prescription Program: The Path to Wealth and Fitness

Betty Jo Whitcomb takes her daily walk among the totem poles at Sitka National Historical Park. She is the first recipient of a quarterly $100 cash prize for participants of the park's Park Prescription Program. (NPS Photo by Michael Hess)

Betty Jo Whitcomb takes her daily walk among the totem poles at Sitka National Historical Park. She is the first recipient of a quarterly $100 cash prize for participants of the park’s Park Prescription Program. (NPS Photo by Michael Hess)

Longtime Sitka walker wins $100 at the first quarterly drawing of completed Park Prescription cards.

Story and Photo By MICHAEL HESS, Park Ranger, Sitka National Historical Park

SiITKA NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK  (June 24, 2013) – While many visitors are enriched physically and mentally walking the trails at Sitka National Historical Park, one walker also became a little wealthier this month as a participant of the Park Prescription Program.

Betty Jo Whitcomb was the first recipient of the quarterly drawing of completed Park Prescription cards, earning her the $100 cash prize, and recognition at a brief ceremony at the park’s second annual National Trails Day earlier this month.

As a longtime Sitka resident, Betty Jo has walked the popular Totem Trail at the national park every day for several years, interacting with out-of-town visitors, meeting old friends, and enjoying the rich cultural history and natural beauty of the park. Even with the other 20 program participants, her odds of winning were good this quarter.

Park Prescriptions FinalShe stops by the park visitor center each day after her walk, presenting her Park Prescription punch card to one of the rangers for verification of her activity. As much as she walks, Betty Jo expects to have at least two cards completed before the next drawing in October.

“[The prize] adds a little extra incentive,” said Ann Wilkinson, president of the Sitka Community Hospital Foundation, the local organization that funded the prize and also purchased waterproof cellphone cases for Park Prescription participants, which conveniently also fits a folded prescription card.

“The more cards you fill up, the better your chances to win the money and, most importantly, the better you’ll feel,” she said.

Betty Jo found out about the program in the local newspaper, but many other walkers learn about the program from their doctors – as a real prescription for real ailments. Sharing thoughts about the Park Prescription’s fountainhead initiative, Call to Action No. 6: “Go Take a Hike, and Call Me in the Morning,” National Parks Service director Jonathan B. Jarvis said, “Being outdoors has positive effects on health that don’t cost a dime” – a feeling shared by the participating local doctors.

Sitka National Historical Park Senior Ranger Carin Farley, right, celebrates with Eric and Sarah Jordan after they became the first people to complete a Park Prescriptions punch card.

Sitka National Historical Park Senior Ranger Carin Farley, right, celebrates with Eric and Sarah Jordan after they became the first people to complete a Park Prescriptions punch card.

As a preventive measure, walking reduces the risks of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, improves mental health and provides many other health benefits. Eric Jordan, another regular Sitka walker and the first person to fill his Park Prescription logged 180 miles in his first five weeks, and later received a clean bill of health from his doctor. In other cases, cardiac patients recover with regular walks on the park’s improved trails, and mental health providers write scripts for exercise and sunshine.

The freedom for participants to achieve their health goals at their own pace, creating their own personal exercise regime is among the stated strengths of the program, along with low start-up costs.

This focus on personal responsibility was also what attracted the attention of Sitka Health Summit board members when they granted support for the program last year, said Patrick Williams, health educator at the Sitka Community Hospital and a member of the Summit.  The Summit meets every year to grant seed money to low-cost, high-gain community wellness opportunities.

This year the Summit invested another $250 that will go towards printing another batch of Park Prescription cards that will be available to local health care providers.

Though a fledgling program with ambitious goals, already people like Betty Jo Whitcomb, Eric Jordan, and the other diligent walkers, strollers, and runners are punching their Park Prescription cards for health, and maybe even a little wealth, on the trails of Sitka National Historical Park.

For more information about the Park Prescription program as a healthcare provider, participant, or volunteer, contact Carin Farley, Sitka National Historical Park chief ranger and program coordinator, at (907) 747-0110 or carin_farley@nps.gov.

• Information sheet about the Park Prescriptions program at Sitka National Historical Park

Chamber music concert and Salmon In The Trees highlighted in Wednesday event at Sitka National Historical Park

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SteamPunkSalmonBetterPeople hiking along the totem trails at Sitka National Historical Park on Wednesday were treated to chamber music and Salmon In The Trees decorated by local artists in an event sponsored by the Sitka Summer Music Festival and the Greater Sitka Arts Council.

More than a hundred people took the short hike for the free concert, which featured Sitka Summer Music Festival musicians led by festival music director and cellist Zuill Bailey. The annual concert in the park has been a fun event for the festival every year, drawing large crowds of locals and tourists (both music lovers in town for the festival and visitors off the cruise ships).

Hanging off trees along the totem trails were dozens of Salmon In The Trees, pieces of plywood cut into the shape of salmon that local artists paid $25 each to decorate as a benefit for the arts council. The arts council auctions off the decorated salmon to raise funds for a variety of events it hosts throughout the year.

The Salmon In The Trees theme was picked to show the importance of our local salmon runs to our forests, which was highlighted by a recent book with the same name from photographer Amy Gulick (with essays from Southeast Alaska writers). Since soil in the rain forest tends to lose nutrients with the moisture, but bears, eagles, ravens and other animals help fertilize the soil when they carry salmon carcasses from nearby streams into the forests.

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Sitka Downtown Revitalization project spruces up Lincoln Street with colorful new banners

NewDowntownBannersCityHall

NewDowntownBannersThere’s a bit of new color downtown on Lincoln Street after eight banners featuring scenes of Sitka were installed by city electric crews on Tuesday, courtesy of the Sitka Downtown Revitalization project.

The banners replaced several older banners that were showing their age (more than 20 years old) and the effects of the weather. The Sitka Downtown Revitalization project, like Walk Sitka a community health project from the 2012 Sitka Health Summit, commissioned three local artists — D.J. Robidou, Cara Murray and Laura Kaltenstein — to design the new banners in an effort to help spruce up Sitka’s downtown and make a friendlier walking environment.

The Sitka Downtown Revitalization project is looking to commission a second batch of eight banners by local artists in the near future. Sitka artists are encouraged to contact Jill Scheidt at 747-3510 to learn more.

Sitka’s application for a 2013 Walk Friendly Communities designation has been submitted

WFC_LogoWalk Sitka has submitted its application for a 2013 Walk Friendly Communities award designation. The application period closes on Saturday, June 15, and results will be announced in a few months.

Applying for a Walk Friendly Communities designation was one of three community wellness projects chosen at the 2012 Sitka Health Summit. By going through this national award application process we hoped to gain a better handle on the status of walking in Sitka and what we can do to improve it. We feel there have been many improvements to walking in Sitka just in the past year, with the launch of many walking programs (Park Prescriptions, Wednesday walks in the park, Senior Hiking Club, etc.), the start of construction on the Sitka Sea Walk, continued construction on the Cross Trail and other Sitka Trail Works projects, and more.

The 72-page community assessment tool, which helps communities fill out the application, has nine sections — Community Profile, Status of Walking, Planning, Education and Encouragement, Engineering, Enforcement, Evaluation and Additional Questions. Once submitted, the actual application printed out at 37 pages.

A copy of our application is posted below. Feel free to review it and let us know ways we can make Sitka more walk friendly. So far, Sitka is the second community in Alaska to apply for a Walk Friendly Communities designation (Juneau received an honorable mention in 2010). Don’t forget to like our Facebook page and watch this site for updates.

• 2013 Walk Friendly Communities application for Sitka, Alaska

Sitka gives open streets a try as part of Sitka Downtown Revitalization project

DANCING IN THE STREET – New Archangel Dancers Stacey Woolsey and Angela McGraw dance arm-in-arm this morning in front of St. Michael’s Cathedral. Two blocks of central Lincoln Street were closed to vehicles from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. today as part of an experiment to make the town more attractive and safer for tourists. The closure allowed street vendors to fill the space and non-profits such as the dancers to perform. Lincoln Street from in front of Ben Franklin to Barracks Street will again be blocked off June 19 and 26 and July 3. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson, http://sitkasentinel.com/7/images/frontpageimage/naddowntownws.jpg)

DANCING IN THE STREET – New Archangel Dancers Stacey Woolsey and Angela McGraw dance arm-in-arm this morning in front of St. Michael’s Cathedral. Two blocks of central Lincoln Street were closed to vehicles from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. today as part of an experiment to make the town more attractive and safer for tourists. The closure allowed street vendors to fill the space and non-profits such as the dancers to perform. Lincoln Street from in front of Ben Franklin to Barracks Street will again be blocked off June 19 and 26 and July 3. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson, http://sitkasentinel.com/7/images/frontpageimage/naddowntownws.jpg)

Two blocks of downtown Sitka were closed off to cars on Wednesday, June 12, to allow tourists and locals to shop and enjoy the downtown. This is the first of four straight Wednesdays (June 12, 19, 26 and July 3) where the streets will be open to pedestrians and bikers from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. as an experiment being tried by the Sitka Downtown Revitalization and Walk Sitka projects that came out of the 2012 Sitka Health Summit.

Closing off downtown streets to traffic and opening them up to walkers, bikers and play is a concept being tried in many communities around the country. Called Open Streets, the basic premise is a local street festival designed to draw people downtown where they can shop, be entertained and interact with their neighbors. Open Streets events also can be farmers markets, arts/music festivals and more.

This isn’t the first time Sitka has closed off downtown streets to traffic and opened them up for walkers and bikers, but previous closures usually were tied to special events such as the End Of Season Celebration/Running of the Boots race or parades. There also have been occasional sidewalk sales or trick-or-treating events that saw downtown streets opened for pedestrians.

Cyndy Gibson organized Wednesday’s pedestrian mall for the Sitka Downtown Revitalization project, and she made this comment in a KCAW-Raven Radio story aired Wednesday night:

For a couple of reasons. One is to encourage more time in the downtown area, and more shopping. When you have more of a unique one-of-a-kind experience when you’re traveling, you’re more inclined to maybe shop for something a little more expensive, or a little more meaningful.

Future Open Streets events in Sitka will feature musicians from the Sitka Summer Music Festival and the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, as well as other entertainment.

SAIL Senior Hiking Club sets June hike for the morning of Wednesday, June 12

Senior Hiking Club Jun 2013The Sitka office of Southeast Alaska Independent Living Inc. (SAIL) has announced its next Senior Hiking Club hike will be from 9:15-11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, June 12. Seniors should meet at the Swan Lake Senior Center for transportation to the trailhead, which will be determined by the group on the day of the hike.

SAIL offers Senior Hiking Club events for those age 60 or older once a month, usually on the second or third Wednesday. There is a $5 fee, but nobody will be turned away because of finances. The hikes are open to people of all abilities and fitness levels. To learn more about the Senior Hiking Club, check out our January post introducing the club.

SIT Poster 2013In addition, the 10th annual Only Fools Run At Midnight costumed fun run/fundraiser for SAIL starts at 11:59 p.m. on Saturday, June 22, at the Sitka Fire Hall. The 5-kilometer fun run and 1-mile walk are open to anybody, and costumes are encouraged. Please pre-register by 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 20, or enter starting at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 22, at the Sitka Fire Hall. Minors need parental permission to participate. Registration is $10 for youth (17 or younger), $20 for adults, and $50 for families of four. You can register at http://www.sailinc.org/.

SAIL also started its senior kayaking program in April for seniors (age 60 and older only). The next session is from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesday, June 25, at a location TBA, and the event is open to seniors of all experience levels. This event has an activity fee of $25 (scholarships are available). There also is an adaptive recreation kayak trip from 3-6:30 p.m. on Monday, June 24, for people of any age with a disability. The fee for this event also is $25.

Finally, SAIL will host a community picnic at 10 a.m. on Sunday, June 30, at Halibut Point Recreation Area. This event is open to all members of the community. SAIL will provide the grillables, but everybody is asked to bring a side dish or dessert to share.

To learn more about the Senior Hiking Club and and a variety of other outdoors skills and survival classes, contact SAIL ORCA (Outdoor Recreation and Community Access) program coordinator Nick Ponzetti at 747-6859.