Sitka renews bronze-level designation in Walk Friendly Communities program

The City and Borough of Sitka earned a renewal of its bronze-level Walk Friendly Communities designation, joining seven other communities announced on Oct. 18 (Alaska Day) that they earned their first or renewed their previous designations. In 2013, Sitka became the first and so far only town in Alaska to earn a bronze-level or higher designation from the Walk Friendly Communities program, coordinated by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC) in Chapel Hill, N.C. (Juneau has honorable mention status).

“I am proud of the hard work city staff has done to improve the lives of Sitkans with the limited funding we have available,” Sitka Mayor Matt Hunter said. “Thank you to the dedicated group of citizens who spend their time advocating for safer streets and who seek to recognize the city’s efforts.”

Becoming a Walk Friendly Community was a community wellness project of the 2008 and 2012 Sitka Health Summits (the 2008 project was before there was a national Walk Friendly Communities program). In 2008, Sitka residents wanted the community to be friendlier to people walking or riding bikes (Sitka earned its first Bicycle Friendly Community designation that year), and in 2012 they wanted to add the WFC designation to the BFC award. Sitka is the only community in Alaska with both Walk Friendly Communities (bronze in 2013 and 2017) and Bicycle Friendly Community  (bronze in 2008 and 2012, silver in 2016) designations.

The WFC award came about when community members decided they wanted to improve and recognize Sitka as a walkable community. The Walk Sitka work group followed a national template developed by the Walk Friendly Communities program designed to help cities and towns become more walkable. The community assessment tool/application (click here for Sitka’s 2017 renewal application) helps communities identify their walking strengths and weaknesses by asking dozens of questions in the following categories — community profile, current status of walking, planning, education and encouragement, engineering, enforcement, and evaluation.

“We hoped we might upgrade to the silver level this time, but we’re still the only official Walk Friendly Communities award-winner in Alaska,” said Charles Bingham, who helped coordinate the Walk Sitka group and wrote the WFC applications in 2013 and 2017. “We’re happy to win the award, but we’re also happy for the feedback we received to help make Sitka a more walkable community.”

Walk Friendly Communities is a national recognition program developed to encourage towns and cities across the U.S. to establish or recommit to a high priority for supporting safer walking environments, according to the program’s website. The WFC program recognizes communities that are working to improve a wide range of conditions related to walking, including safety, mobility, access, and comfort.

“The majority of trips in the car are for less than three miles, and if we can encourage people to walk or bike instead we promote a culture of wellness,” Bingham said. “Not only are people getting heart-healthy physical health benefits from walking, there are benefits for mental and emotional health when you take a walk in the woods. In addition, by walking and biking we reduce the amount of car exhaust we have to breathe, and there are economic benefits when we have walkable communities. There also are increased social connections when people, because neighbors can chat with each other instead of being barricaded in a steel box on wheels.”

The eight new or renewing Walk Friendly Communities for Fall 2017 were Washington, D.C., at the gold level; Columbus, Ohio; Long Beach, Calif.; and Redwood City, Calif.; at the silver level; and Essex Junction, Vt.; Gainesville, Fla.; Northampton, Mass.; and Sitka; at the bronze level. They bring the nation’s total to 67 awardees in the program at four levels — bronze, silver, gold, and platinum (Seattle and New York City are the lone platinum WFCs). In 2011, Juneau received an honorable mention in the program but has not earned a full WFC designation. The Walk Friendly Communities designation is good for five years, and Sitka doesn’t have to renew its award until the spring of 2022, although it can apply earlier if it thinks it’s ready to upgrade a level.

“Communities nationwide are implementing some very impressive plans and projects to create welcoming pedestrian environments,” said Dan Gelinne, WFC program manager. “All cities and towns face challenges related to pedestrian safety and walkability, but these Walk Friendly Communities are well-positioned to address these concerns and proactively improve their streets. We hope their innovative projects and programs can serve as models to other communities.”

The Walk Friendly Communities program has two application periods each year. Each application is reviewed by at least three reviewers to provide a fair assessment of the community and technical feedback on how to improve the community’s walkability.

Some of the major changes since Sitka’s 2013 application included the replacement of the Indian River Pedestrian Bridge in Sitka National Historical Park, the multi-purpose path from Whale Park to the end of Sawmill Creek Road, funding commitments for two extensions to the Sitka Sea Walk and to finish the Cross Trail, a new multi-purpose path on Edgecumbe Drive, proposed bike-walk improvements to Sawmill Creek Road from the roundabout to Jeff Davis Street, new walking encouragement programs, and more.

According to Sitka’s community report card and feedback (posted at the bottom of this article):

“Based on our review, we are re-designating Sitka as a Bronze-level Walk Friendly Community. Among the many programs and initiatives you shared with us, we were particularly impressed with:

  • The consistently high walking mode share and (low) pedestrian crash rate.
  • The level of planning effort and community support for Sitka’s trail system.
  • Slow speed limits through downtown and in school zones, paired with pedestrian countdown signals at Sitka’s two main intersections.
  • The variety and frequency of walking programs.”

The Walk Friendly Communities program was launched in October 2010. It is coordinated by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC), which is maintained by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center under a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). It is funded by FedEx Corp.

The next WFC application deadline is Dec. 15, with the results announced in April 2018. Interested communities can go to http://www.walkfriendly.org/, where they can learn more about the program and review the community assessment tool.

• Sitka, Alaska, 2017 Walk Friendly Communities Report Card and Feedback

• National press release for October 2017 Walk Friendly Communities

• 2017 Walk Friendly Communities renewal application for Sitka, Alaska

• 2013 Walk Friendly Communities application for Sitka, Alaska

• Sitka, Alaska, 2013 Walk Friendly Communities Report Card and Feedback

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Sitka’s renewal application for a 2017 Walk Friendly Communities designation has been submitted

Walk Sitka has submitted its renewal application for a 2017 Walk Friendly Communities award designation. The application period closed on Thursday, June 15, and results will be announced in a few months. In 2013, Sitka earned a Bronze Level WFC designation, and we’re hoping to move up to Silver or Gold this year.

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, Sitka Trail Works weekend hikes, Senior Hiking Club, etc.), the construction on the Sitka Sea Walk and upcoming expansions, 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 40 pages.

A copy of our 2013 and 2017 applications are posted below, along with our 2013 report card from the WFC program. Feel free to review it and let us know ways we can make Sitka more walk friendly. So far, Sitka is the only community in Alaska to earn a Bronze Level or higher 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.

• 2017 Walk Friendly Communities application for Sitka, Alaska

• 2013 Walk Friendly Communities application for Sitka, Alaska

• Sitka, Alaska, 2013 Walk Friendly Communities Report Card and Feedback

Get up and move on Wednesday, April 6, for National Walking Day

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Wednesday, April 6, is the American Heart Association‘s National Walking Day, and on this day companies, organizations and individuals across America are going to wear sneakers to work, take 30 minutes to walk and pledge to live heart-healthy lives.

Photo courtesy of Sitka National Historical Park

Photo courtesy of Sitka National Historical Park

These days, adults like spend more time at work than ever before, much of it chained to a desk. An unfortunate side effect is that, as a nation, we’re becoming more inactive. This is a problem when you consider the fact that physical inactivity doubles the risk of heart disease.

On National Walking Day, employees are encouraged to wear sneakers to work and take at least 30 minutes out of their day to get up and walk. It’s a great way to raise awareness of the importance of physical activity and to give your co-workers a friendly push toward a healthier life.

By downloading the National Walking Day toolkit, worksite employee wellness teams can design one-day walking events or six-week walking programs to help get employees and bosses more active. Some tips include holding walking meetings, setting up printers so you have to walk down the hall to get your printouts, standing up every time you talk on the phone, and holding lunchtime walks. Getting out and walking helps reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer and other medical conditions, and walking also helps relieve work stress and gives employees a chance to recharge for the rest of the work day.

In Sitka, people can participate in a variety of walking/hiking programs, such as Park Prescriptions and the Park Prescriptions Active April Challenge, the Senior Walking Hours program at the Hames Center, the Southeast Alaska Independent Living (SAIL) Senior Hiking Club (note, next hike is 1-3:15 p.m. on April 14 on the Cross Trail), Sitka Trail Works, and more. Or they can walk on their own, with family or their dogs. Just get out and enjoy Sitka’s natural beauty by hiking one of Sitka’s numerous trails, the Sitka Sea Walk, or through the totem trails at Sitka National Historical Park.

Get up and move on Wednesday, April 1, for National Walking Day

natl-walking-day-2015

Wednesday, April 1, is the American Heart Association‘s National Walking Day, and on this day companies, organizations and individuals across America are going to wear sneakers to work, take 30 minutes to walk and pledge to live heart-healthy lives.

These days, adults like spend more time at work than ever before, much of it chained to a desk. An unfortunate side effect is that, as a nation, we’re becoming more inactive. This is a problem when you consider the fact that physical inactivity doubles the risk of heart disease.

nwd_2015_icon_smOn National Walking Day, employees are encouraged to wear sneakers to work and take at least 30 minutes out of their day to get up and walk. It’s a great way to raise awareness of the importance of physical activity and to give your co-workers a friendly push toward a healthier life.

By downloading the National Walking Day toolkit, worksite employee wellness teams can design one-day walking events or six-week walking programs to help get employees and bosses more active. Some tips include holding walking meetings, setting up printers so you have to walk down the hall to get your printouts, standing up every time you talk on the phone, and holding lunchtime walks. Getting out and walking helps reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer and other medical conditions, and walking also helps relieve work stress and gives employees a chance to recharge for the rest of the work day.

In Sitka, people can participate in a variety of walking/hiking programs, such as Park Prescriptions, the Wednesday Walk In The Parks, the Senior Hiking Club, Sitka Trail Works, and more. Or they can walk on their own, with family or their dogs. Just get out and enjoy Sitka’s natural beauty by hiking one of Sitka’s numerous trails, the Sitka Sea Walk, or through the totem trails at Sitka National Historical Park.

Chamber music and ‘Violins In The Trees’ to highlight Wednesday event at Sitka National Historical Park

TakingBows

People hiking along the totem trails at noon on Wednesday, June 18, at Sitka National Historical Park will be treated to a free outdoor chamber music concert and a “Violins In The Trees” art installation by local artists in the annual Concert In The Park event sponsored by the Sitka Summer Music Festival and the Greater Sitka Arts Council.

There will be a short quarter-mile hike for the free concert, which features Sitka Summer Music Festival artistic director/cellist Zuill Bailey playing the Schubert String Quintet in C Major with the Catalyst Quartet. 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). Concert goers should feel free to bring their own folding chairs and blankets.

Hanging off trees along the totem trails will be dozens of Violins In The Trees, old and/or broken violins that local artists paid $25 each to decorate as a benefit for the Greater Sitka Arts Council. The arts council will auction off the decorated violins to raise funds for a variety of events it hosts throughout the year. Last year, the arts council had decorated plywood cutouts of salmon hanging in the trees in recognition of the Salmon in the Trees book about salmon forests by Amy Gulick and the interaction between the salmon, trees and animals of the forest.

 

Get up and move on Wednesday, April 2, for National Walking Day

NationalWalkingDay2014Logolarge

Wednesday, April 2, is the American Heart Association‘s National Walking Day, and on this day companies, organizations and individuals across America are going to wear sneakers to work, take 30 minutes to walk and pledge to live heart-healthy lives.

These days, adults like spend more time at work than ever before, much of it chained to a desk. An unfortunate side effect is that, as a nation, we’re becoming more inactive. This is a problem when you consider the fact that physical inactivity doubles the risk of heart disease.

NationalWalkingDayLogomediumOn National Walking Day, employees are encouraged to wear sneakers to work and take at least 30 minutes out of their day to get up and walk. It’s a great way to raise awareness of the importance of physical activity and to give your co-workers a friendly push toward a healthier life.

By downloading the National Walking Day toolkit, worksite employee wellness teams can design one-day walking events or six-week walking programs to help get employees and bosses more active. Some tips include holding walking meetings, setting up printers so you have to walk down the hall to get your printouts, standing up every time you talk on the phone, and holding lunchtime walks. Getting out and walking helps reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer and other medical conditions, and walking also helps relieve work stress and gives employees a chance to recharge for the rest of the work day.

In Sitka, people can participate in a variety of walking/hiking programs, such as Park Prescriptions, the Wednesday Walk In The Parks, the Senior Hiking Club and more. Or they can walk on their own, with family or their dogs to get out and enjoy Sitka’s natural beauty.

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

TotemTrailEntrance

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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