A well planned park or pathway promotes physical activity, protects the environment, and provides health benefits for individuals and communities. The National Park Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a toolkit for planning trails with public health in mind: The Parks, Trails, and Health Workbook: A Tool for Planners, Parks and Recreational Professionals, and Health Practitioners, available for download here.
“Community health should be a core topic of conversation during every park, trail, and open space planning project,” said Captain Sara Newman, director office of public health, National Park Service. “This workbook provides step by step instructions for community members, health professionals, and park managers to incorporate public health ideas and strategies in the development or improvement of green spaces.”
National Park Service community planners work in local communities with a range of partners to plan and develop close to home recreational opportunities. The workbook, developed by the National Park Service Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Healthy Community Design Initiative, includes guidance about how to create a community health profile, identify partners, assess potential sites, collect data, and evaluate success.
In the planning stages, it is important to determine public access and usability and to ensure that facilities and amenities inspire activity, notes National Park Service and CDC. Geography, visibility, safety, and accessibility are all important factors that can determine the success of a trail or park.
In addition to providing individuals an outlet for physical and mental health, parks can also enhance the well-being of a community by providing tree cover, reducing flooding risks, preserving critical habitat, mitigating urban heat, and fostering public interaction.
“Improving parks and trails can have co-benefits that are not always apparent,” said Dee Merriam, community planner for CDC’s Healthy Community Design Initiative. “For example, a retention pond can help with storm water management and could also be a park amenity.”
In Washington State, the Whatcom County Health Department and the Birch Bay Waterfront Group used the workbook to examine the health impact of proposed waterfront enhancements. The process helped the community select changes to the waterfront that would increase physical activity, enhance the safety of users, increase social cohesion, and help boost the Birch Bay economy. As a result, Whatcom County’s Board of Health has resolved to follow the workbook’s framework on all future health and planning projects.
Interested facility management planners can download the workbook here.