Despite barriers and delays caused by COVID-19, partners around the state have found imaginative solutions to empower communities striving to overcome West Virginia’s health-related challenges.
A year ago, the Center for ActiveWV, at the West Virginia University College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences, set out to empower communities to create opportunities for physical activity through a statewide initiative. Amid a global pandemic, access to physical activity in communities has become a valuable tool to boost immune systems and manage stress.
The mini-grant program, funded by the West Virginia Division of Health Promotion and Chronic Disease, was launched in 2019 with the goal of improving the lives of West Virginians through increased access to physical activity opportunities.
Now in the second year of funding, the Center for ActiveWV has awarded 15 community grants for 2021, which range up to $5,000 for projects to improve pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure in communities, schools and health centers across the state.
"It's impressive to see innovative projects despite the ongoing global pandemic,” Sam Zizzi, CPASS associate dean for research CPASS and co-director for the Center for ActiveWV, said. “These efforts recognize the importance of walking and other forms of outdoor recreation while families are stuck indoors working and schooling from home."
As the project moves into year two, the Center for ActiveWV team’s efforts will continue to focus on creating opportunities for physical activity with a focus on policy, systems and environment changes and health equity.
"Certainly, living during COVID-19 is more stressful than normal. We believe that these projects are especially important for West Virginia citizens right now because of the ample evidence that supports regular physical activity to improve mental health and reduce stress," Zizzi said.
“The mission of the Center for ActiveWV is to successfully impact a physically active culture in West Virginia through collaboration, research, policy and practice,” Eloise Elliott, Ware Distinguished Professor at CPASS and director of the Center, said. “We are pleased to have this opportunity to collaborate with the Division of Health Promotion and Chronic Disease in the WV Bureau for Public Health to help communities throughout West Virginia promote physical activity.”
Local partners have developed creative programs to overcome the state’s health-related barriers.
“This funding will assist us to promote our ‘Wellness Works’ program to our service areas. We would like to make the first prescription for chronic illness or pre-diabetes, obesity be a prescription for exercise,” Sabrina McKinney, director of nursing, Rainelle Medical Center, said. Funds will be used to enhance a walking trail at a local roadside park, she added.
“We’ll also hold Motion Bingo sessions for those who are unable to walk, teaching them to use resistance bands and other forms of exercise in an interactive Motion Bingo,” McKinney said.
The Active Pathways in Monongalia County is a unique way to get kids moving in response to the COVID pandemic. “We are excited to offer activity paths at all our county elementary schools, as well as with our community partners at their locations like The Shack Neighborhood House, local parks, and the Boys and Girls Club,” Becca Fint-Clark, WVU Extension Service agent in Monongalia County, said.
“These paths create a fun and interactive way for youth to be physically active while they also practice social distancing. The paths are painted in an area where youth can access them and are made up of various physical tasks for the youth to perform like tiptoe, march, balance, jump, crab walk, and others. It is a great feeling to offer something useful, fun, and that promotes physical activity to youth in schools and community sites, as well as families visiting parks,” Fint-Clark said.
The 15 community grants for 2021 will help fund the following projects:
- ACCESS WV: Develop a trail system that integrates all existing trails, both public and private access in Wayne County, including access point for canoeing and kayaking along Twelvepole Creek.
- Camp Virgil Tate: Improve a natural outdoor play space at the camp in Sissonville, WV and print maps of local walking trails.
- City of Moundsville: Improve walking trail in the city by constructing a black top activity area with Active Pathways painted on black top.
- City of Nitro: Install four interactive areas along a fully ADA compliant trail linking Nitro Elementary to Ridenour Lake.
- Cranberry Prosperity Elementary: Create a walking track that surrounds the school playground that will be accessed during and after school and will provide physical activity opportunities for the Beckley WV area communities.
- Monongalia River Trails Conservancy: Restore trail from damage caused by grass encroachment and washouts on 5-mile section of the Mon River-Trail from the mile marker 19 at Little Falls Road in Marion County, WV to the Opekiska Dam in Monongalia County, WV.
- Pocahontas County Parks and Recreation: Build two loops of a “Pump Track” in Stillwell Park in Marlinton, WV. Loops will link together with a bicycle playground for beginners within the first section.
- Preston County Parks and Recreation Commission: Install NatureRock Boulder at the Kingwood Trailhead Park to encourage and allow children to experience rock climbing and bouldering in a safe, controlled setting.
- Rainelle Medical Center: Enhance a walking trail through structural improvements and signage at Meadow River Watershed Roadside Park that healthcare providers will use for patient referrals to the Wellness Works program.
- Sutton Elementary School: Improve the school physical education program through equipment upgrades and virtual instructional lessons to meet national educational standards.
- Town of Wardensville: Create a walking tour map of downtown that highlights local history and directs walkers to local art installations.
- West Virginia Land Trust: Improve signage on the Yellow Creek National Area for trail entry and exit points as well as trail markers and maps along the Heart of the Highlands Trail System.
- University Healthcare Foundation: Complete and improve walking/biking trail at P. O. Faulkner Park in Martinsburg, W.Va. through trail development and installation of benches and signage.
- Williamson Health and Wellness Center, Inc.: Improve walking trails at five locations in Mingo County, provide signage for Wellness Coaches at eight schools and link Federally Qualified Health Center patients to physical activity in their community.
- WVU Monongalia County Extension Services: Creating Active Pathways for youth to be active in outdoor settings in locations across the county and training physical educators and facility managers on implementation of the Active Pathways.