Creating Pathways for Active Lives: Towns, Trails & Parks

Our environment often affects our mood, outlook and activities. Lack of access, safety concerns, or pedestrian obstacles can easily become everyday reasons for lower levels of activity. Fortunately, there is a movement in Wake County to take the right steps to both remove these barriers and create environments which encourage physical activity.

Notable improvements have been made to specific towns, trails and parks in Wake County in the last three years. In 2007, the North Carolina Museum of Art, Town of Cary and Town of Holly Springs all set out to impact active living in their respective communities with the support of three-year Active Community and Neighborhood Grants from the John Rex Endowment.

Cary Park Connections 

Connecting the dots can create a clear picture of what is in front of you, and that is exactly what the Town of Cary identified as the need for Fred G. Bond Metro Park. With grant support, the Town of Cary set out to fill in missing links for the 310-acre park, greenways, trails and playgrounds.

By constructing walkways, installing user-friendly signage, and increasing park programming, the Town of Cary created a safer, more convenient place for walking and outdoor activity. Approximately 845 linear feet of sidewalks and trails were completed over three years. Improvements to greenway connectors, sidewalks and pedestrian crossings now allow visitors safe access from parking areas.

The town also adopted the Park, Recreation and Cultural Resources Comprehensive Sign Plan. Navigation of the park was improved for visitors by adding more than 70 trail markers and related signs, key directional and facility signs, kiosks and folding maps.

To increase knowledge and comfort level with the park, the town introduced a teen orienteering summer camp and weekly walking groups for families, seniors and pet owners. Additionally, a Fitness Pavilion was added to the popular, annual Cary Spring Daze in 2009 and the concept was expanded to include a Fitness Trail for the event in 2010. A Fit Cary Pedometer Challenge was incorporated with the 2010 Spring Daze Fitness Trail to encourage exploration of the park grounds. Approximately 250 visitors logged more than 400,000 steps during the full-day event.  

The Town of Cary is one of two communities in the state to be designated as a Gold-Level Fit Community by the Health and Wellness Trust Fund. The designation recognizes success in promoting healthier lifestyles among residents. “The grant from the John Rex Endowment, coupled with other initiatives, gave the Town of Cary the ability to focus the appropriate energy and resources on health and wellness,” said Sam Trogdon, supervisor of Bond Park Community Center. “It has also helped us create new and enhanced partnerships with WakeMed Cary, Be Active NC, REI and many others.”

People-Powered Holly Springs

Child riding bike in parkIn a town where many community resources are located so closely together, one should be able to take a stroll, enjoy some exercise and take advantage of the convenience of having so much in close proximity. Unfortunately, three years ago there wasn’t a logical way to get from one place to the next by foot in key identified areas of the Town of Holly Springs.

Since it is one of the fastest growing communities in Wake County, town leaders wanted to make sure development plans matched community expectations. By inviting members to sketch out their dreams on large maps, it became clear that linking parks, schools and the downtown district was high on the community wish list.

With a three-year grant from the John Rex Endowment, they increased greenway connectivity around Veteran’s Park by 2,100 linear feet and added 2,324 linear feet to greenway connections between the park and Holly Springs Elementary School. Additionally, they added 1,300 feet of sidewalk connections between the school and the downtown business district.

“The John Rex Endowment grant support of the greenway connections was the catalyst for other park improvements,” said David Mallard, recreation programs manager for Holly Springs Parks and Recreation “In parallel with grant activities, the Town of Holly Springs built a brand new playground and installed 12 fitness stations along the main trail of the greenway loop.”

Twelve neighborhoods, equivalent to 50 percent of the town’s population at time of grant completion, now have easy access, within five to 10 minutes, to the parks and over six miles of greenways, trails and sidewalks. To raise awareness about the pedestrian-friendly routes to school, the town hosted Walking School Bus days. They also offered walking groups and encouraged walking or biking to Cultural Center events and the seasonal Farmer’s Market.

“The new greenways, crosswalks and sidewalk segments provide safer, people-powered connections for residents of Holly Springs,” said Mallard.

 Art in the Park

art in the parkNot all museums can brag that their grounds are one of their greatest assets. The NC Museum of Art (NCMOA) buildings are surrounded by a 164-acre park of natural land with three miles of greenways and trails. Unfortunately, the Museum Park was historically underutilized by both visitors and the community-at-large. To expose the hidden outdoor gem, the NCMOA team set out to incorporate art throughout the park and encourage visitors of all ages and physical abilities to actively explore the Museum Park.    

Art Has No Boundaries was launched with a three-year grant from the John Rex Endowment that supported a multi-faceted approach which focused on the integration of site-specific park art, improved park programming, increased marketing specific to park features, accessibility assessments, improved signage, new maps and enhanced amenities.

NCMOA worked with the NC State University Center for Universal Design to obtain a comprehensive assessment of the park usability and accessibility. Based on those recommendations, the park’s signs were updated, new maps were printed, and resting stops were incorporated. 

Additionally, Extreme Art school tours were developed, a self-guided cell phone tour was created, and artists offered guided tours at special events. Approximately 4,000 individuals were reached through new programs developed during the three-year grant, and general park use reached an estimated minimum of 75,000 during the course of the grant work despite a significant museum closing during the third year.   

Since 2007, NCMOA has commissioned several new works of art for the park. Steed Taylor’s Invasive, atemporary road tattoo, was installed in 2008 to beckon all ages to literally explore the patterns covering 1000 feet of park trails.Park Pictures, billboard-size art which rotates annually, can be found in three locations along the House Creek Greenway Trail. Closer Look, a series of etched trail markers, now also provides a fun opportunity for kids and adults to create rubbings of 12 plant and animal images while enjoying a self-guided art and nature walk.

NCMOA has already secured resources to continue activities which encourage and enhance park use. Additionally, they actively share their grant work with peer groups, municipality parks and recreation programs, and others who can benefit from their model.

Stay tuned for a future spotlight on two additional Active Community and Neighborhood grants. Triangle Transit Authority and SDA Gethsemane Church will be featured next. 

A total of five Active Community and Neigbhorhood Grants were funded by the John Rex Endowment through the Physical Activity and Nutrition Branch of the N.C. Division of Public Health.