Sitka National Historical Park wins Alaska Community Service Award for Health for Park Prescriptions program

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 in early 2013.

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 in early 2013.

Sitka National Historical Park is pleased to announce that its Park Prescriptions program has received the Alaska Community Service Award for Health from the Alaska Public Health Association (ALPHA).

According to ALPHA, Sitka National Historical Park was chosen for its “significant contribution to the health of Alaskans” by fostering “improved personal health through outdoor physical activity” in the park. John Quinley, the assistant regional director from the National Park Service’s Alaska Regional Office, will accept the award on behalf of Sitka National Historical Park at the Alaska Health Summit on Wednesday, Jan. 29, in Anchorage.

SitkaNationalHistoricalParkSignAccording to a press release from Sitka National Historical Park Chief of Interpretation and Education Becky Latanich, the park “extends its thanks to the Sitka Heath Summit for its support of the program and to all of the local healthcare providers that have participated in the initiative.  The park also thanks its partners at the Sitka Community Hospital Foundation for sponsoring the program’s participation incentives.”

The Park Prescriptions program strengthens the connection between the health care system and public lands by promoting walking the trails at Sitka National Historical Park to improve physical health, as well as emotional and mental well-being.

Local health providers write park prescriptions to their patients, who fill the park prescriptions by taking walks through the totem trails at Sitka National Historical Park. Every time people take a walk, they get a punchcard stamped at the park’s visitor center, and when the punchcard is full it is entered for quarterly prize drawings.

For more information about the program, contact Ranger Carin Farley at 907-747-0127.

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Sitka Sea Walk starting to take shape, but project not finished yet

Sarah and Eric Jordan check out the boats in Crescent Harbor while taking a hike on the Sitka Sea Walk on Tuesday, Sept. 10, (Photo by Charles Bingham)

Sarah and Eric Jordan check out the boats in Crescent Harbor while taking a hike on the Sitka Sea Walk on Tuesday, Sept. 10, (Photo by Charles Bingham)

SEA WALK WORK – CBC Construction’s Frank Kimball moves rocks near the Sitka Sound Science Center the morning of April 13,. Work has begun on the $1.22 million sea walk project including the stretch of sidewalk near the center that had dead-ended at the Crescent Harbor breakwater. The CBC bid for the scenic walk was so far below the estimated cost that five optional additional improvements were added to the project. The project will widen the sidewalk along Crescent Harbor, connect it to a new walkway in front of the Sitka Sound Science Center and add a walkway along the beach to Sitka National Historical Park. The add ons include using Alaska yellow cedar instead of treated lumber for the boardwalk; a walkway spur atop the eastern breakwater of Crescent Harbor; installing site lighting; improving Crescent Park drainage, and adding a trail from the basketball court to the entrance of the SJ Campus. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

SEA WALK WORK – CBC Construction’s Frank Kimball moves rocks near the Sitka Sound Science Center the morning of April 13,. Work has begun on the $1.22 million sea walk project including the stretch of sidewalk near the center that had dead-ended at the Crescent Harbor breakwater. The CBC bid for the scenic walk was so far below the estimated cost that five optional additional improvements were added to the project. The project will widen the sidewalk along Crescent Harbor, connect it to a new walkway in front of the Sitka Sound Science Center and add a walkway along the beach to Sitka National Historical Park. The add ons include using Alaska yellow cedar instead of treated lumber for the boardwalk; a walkway spur atop the eastern breakwater of Crescent Harbor; installing site lighting; improving Crescent Park drainage, and adding a trail from the basketball court to the entrance of the SJ Campus. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Sections of the new Sitka Sea Walk are nearing completion, even though there is still much work to be done before the new coastal walking path from Harrigan Centennial Hall to the Sitka National Historical Park is finished.

The section of the Sitka Sea Walk that connects to the Crescent Harbor parking lot and Harrigan Centennial Hall is mostly done, and people already are using this section. There also is a completed section in front of the Sitka Sound Science Center.

However, construction crews still are excavating the part of the Sitka Sea Walk that drops from the road down to the beach near Sitka National Historical Park.  The section by the basketball and tennis courts also isn’t ready for foot traffic.

The Sitka Assembly awarded the contract to CBC Construction in March, and city officials were able to add five add-ons to the project because the winning bid was so low. The project is funded by cruise tax money and construction is expected to continue into the summer. Click here for more information about the project.

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

Sitka Assembly issues proclamation supporting Walk Sitka efforts to make Sitka a Walk Friendly Community

Walk Sitka member Don Jones, left, receives a copy of a proclamation supporting the group's efforts to improve Sitka's walkability from Sitka Mayor Mim McConnell on Tuesday, April 9, 2013.

Walk Sitka member Don Jones, left, receives a copy of a proclamation supporting the group’s efforts to improve Sitka’s walkability from Sitka Mayor Mim McConnell on Tuesday, April 9, 2013.

On Tuesday, April 9, the Sitka Assembly issued a proclamation supporting the efforts of Walk Sitka to make Sitka a Walk Friendly Community. Later in the meeting, the Assembly directed Mayor Mim McConnell to sign the International Charter for Walking.

Walk Sitka is a group formed after the 2012 Sitka Health Summit with the goal to help Sitka recognize and improve its walking experience. The group is preparing a Walk Friendly Communities award application in the hope Sitka can become the first Alaska community to earn a Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum designation (Juneau earned an honorable mention in 2010, the first year of the program).

The Walk Friendly Communities application requires a variety of information about a community’s walkability, such as planning, education and encouragement, enforcement, engineering, and evaluation. The process allows groups to really evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their community’s walkability, and helps them develop plans to make their cities and towns more walkable. Walk Sitka expects to submit its application for a Walk Friendly Communities award during the next application cycle (May 1-June 15).

Walk Sitka members Charles Bingham, left, Eric Jordan and Don Jones show off the proclamation issued by the Sitka Assembly supporting the group's efforts to make Sitka a walk friendly community.

Walk Sitka members Charles Bingham, left, Eric Jordan and Don Jones show off the proclamation issued by the Sitka Assembly supporting the group’s efforts to make Sitka a walk friendly community.

The proclamation noted that Sitka has several factors that make it a walk friendly community. Sitka has an extensive trail system. it has a culture of walking (Sitka has four times the national average of people who commute to work by walking), it has a growing number of walking programs (such as Park Prescriptions, the Wednesday Walks In The Park, the SAIL Senior Hiking Club and others), and exciting new projects such as the Sitka Sea Walk that will be built this summer. The proclamation also noted how walking is one of the best ways for people to improve their health, and how walkable communities help improve the economy of their cities and towns.

The International Charter for Walking has been signed by individuals, groups and communities in a multitude of countries around the world. Right now, more than 4,000 signatures are on the charter, with the top five countries being the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Australia and Germany. The charter has a variety of goals that help communities build cultures of walking, such as inclusive mobility, integrated networks, less crime, spaces for people, reducing road danger, spatial planning, supported authorities, and the promotion of walking.

• Proclamation from the Sitka Assembly supporting the work Walk Sitka is doing to make Sitka a walk friendly community

• International Charter for Walking signed by Sitka Mayor Mim McConnell