by Melissa Morin, CHES
Community Health Promoter, AmeriCorps Member
Klickitat County Health Department
There are many reasons NOT to exercise: we’re busy, gym memberships can be expensive, the weather or early sunsets keep us from getting outside, or we’re tired at the end of a long day. Finding ways to fit physical activity into things we already do every day is a great way to get active. And active commuting, whether it’s biking, walking, or skateboarding to work or school, is an ideal way to do just that!
But where we live plays a huge role in how easy it is to get around by foot or bike. Cities and towns across Washington State and around the nation are rethinking how the built environment affects our ability to be active. And while we might think it should be easy enough to get around a small, rural town, pedestrians and cyclists can face challenges unique to rural communities.
The Klickitat County Health Department is addressing these challenges with an Active Community Environments grant from the Washington State Departments of Transportation and Health that will bring Safe Routes to School (SRTS) and Complete Streets to the cities of Goldendale, White Salmon, and Bingen.
To get the ball rolling, KCHD teamed up with Whitson Elementary School in White Salmon to take a look at what it’s like to walk to school. Where do most kids walk to and from? Is there anything that makes walking difficult in the neighborhood around the school? What’s great about walking in this community? To answer these questions, Whitson students, teachers, and parents participated in a walk audit – a group walk through the school neighborhood to assess the assets and challenges to walking and biking. It was a great opportunity to talk to kids who walk every day about the little things - like scary dogs or trash cans that block sidewalk - and the big things - like a very confusing intersection many students use and the safest way to walk from the school to the library or the youth center. The best part was seeing kids turn into mini-engineers as they shared their creative solutions for making walking better.
There’s a lot more to accomplish, and KCHD will work with community members, schools, and government officials on an Active Living Task Force to tackle these issues over the next two years. But this is one small step in the direction of creating safe walking routes for students and in working with the community to plan for future transportation improvements that incorporate the needs of all users.