Submitted by Thurston County Public Health & Social Services Department

As the year tilts toward the winter months, people spend more time indoors together, and we need simple ways to stay healthy. In addition to making sure immunizations are up to date, think about ways your family can get physical activity (30 minutes a day for adults; 60 minutes for kids) and maintain your health. Walking is the most common form of moderate physical activity. It can be done from home, work or even to school – places where you can find a ready walking partner at just about any time. We’re fortunate in Thurston County to have an abundance of walking opportunities in local parks, as well as the region’s trail system, the city centers around the county, and often our own neighborhoods.

Thurston County Public Health
Walking to school can be a great way for kids to get extra exercise. Photo courtesy: Thurston County Public Health

Part of supporting and encouraging more walking is making the choice to walk easier for people, so that it can be woven into our daily lives. One example is to make it easier for people to replace short trips, such as going out to eat, doing errands at local stores, or traveling to work, with an active form of transportation like walking. This means having safe, convenient routes for people to use from their neighborhood to these destinations. Sidewalks and trails that are well-marked and have safe crossings, in a connected network, are some of the main ingredients for walkability. Having a compact and diverse pattern of development is another, longer term key.

Thurston County is honored to have the Thurston Thrives Community Design Action Team named a finalist in the national Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge. This project aims to boost the walking access that people have to the trails near where they live (or work) through new all-weather, ADA-compliant connecting paths, signs to help people find their way around, and additional improvements. This active design – trail “walkshed” effort has so far gathered information about good opportunities for new paths and bench locations along our trails. More accessible, and thus better-used neighborhood streets and trails also become safer places, as people are more visible to traffic, and there are more of us looking out for each other.

Local cities are important partners in this effort as well, since they do a lot of the projects that build streets and other infrastructure to support people walking or engaging in other active transportation. City of Olympia pursues neighborhood pathways and new ways to get to parks. City of Lacey has begun a pedestrian and bicycle plan and is accepting comments on it now. City of Tumwater has added 3/4 mile to the regional trails network in the past year through a development between Israel and Littlerock roads, and smaller towns like Tenino are getting into the act.

loop trail olympia
Capitol Lake is probably the most popular loop trail in Olympia. Entirely flat, the loop trail is perfect for strollers and those walkers with limited mobility. Photo credit: Diane Waiste.

Building walkable places is essential for more people to be active and healthy in their daily lives. So is having good information. There is great support for Safe Routes to School in our community – with partners like local cities and school districts, Intercity Transit, Safe Kids Thurston County, Thurston Regional Planning Council and your county’s health, public works and sheriff’s departments working together to provide traffic safety information, as well as identifying improvements and ways to remove barriers for kids and families being able to get active walking or rolling in existing school neighborhoods. These organizations are helping to celebrate Walk to School Month in October. This all helps kids and families stay connected and arrive at school on-time and ready to learn, setting a foundation for a healthy life.

A quick reminder about some simple safety tips can help us achieve a goal of zero traffic fatalities in our county. If you’re driving:

  • Put away your phone,
  • Slow down in schools zones to 20mph or less
  • Yield to people crossing the street.

If you’re walking:

  • Stay to the side of the road,
  • Stop and look both ways before crossing a street,
  • Keep yourself visible with bright clothes or reflective material).

Enjoy a safe and healthy fall, full of activity. If you have ideas for improvements that would increase walking where you live or work, contact Chris Hawkins, Community Engagement, Evidence and Partnerships Manager: hawkinc@co.thurston.wa.us

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