Healthy Communities project gets into gear

MARYSVILLE — Almost exactly a year ago, the city unveiled an initial three-pronged action plan for a more health community.

MARYSVILLE — Almost exactly a year ago, the city unveiled an initial three-pronged action plan for a more health community.

Now, through committees that began meeting last month, community leaders are trying to put those initial plans into action.

“We are trying to move forward with the priorities gained from almost two years of study,” said city Parks and Recreation Director Jim Ballew.

For the most, Ballew has been leading the way in coordinating Marysville’s Health Communities Project.

“Our goal is to create an environment within our community that makes it easier for residents and visitors to be physically active and choose healthy foods,” Mayor Dennis Kendall said when the project’s priority list was unveiled.

Ballew said committees are studying how to make Marysville a more active community, how to provide low cost or free recreation and how to increase resident access to healthy foods.

According to Ballew, the first committee has met several times and is looking at such issues as walking and bike trails. The ultimate goal is, he said, to come up with a citywide network. Among several spots in the city receiving attention, Ballew said planners are taking a special look at a four-mile loop around Jennings Park and with good reason according to city Community Development Director Gloria Hirashima.

Hirashima is a member of a subcommittee looking at creation of walking and biking trails around the city. She said the Jennings Park area deserves some special attention as it is one of the more popular walking routes in town. Ballew talked about adding sidewalks and curbs in spots around Jennings. Both Ballew and Hirashima said finding funding for such major improvements is an obvious hurdle, with Hirashima adding her group has tried to uncover opportunities for smaller enhancements.

“We are looking at what we can immediately do, things that aren’t necessarily big ticket items,” she said.

In largely the same vein, Ballew talked about restriping streets here and there to make them more pedestrian and bike friendly. He also talked about signage promoting the healthy communities program that should appear around town later this year.

In terms of providing free or low cost recreational activities, Marysville School District Athletic Director Greg Erickson said he and others studying that issue are looking heavily at creating some sort of “adopt-a-park” program. He added key questions still under discussion include how such a program might work, including what reasonably might be expected of participants.

Ballew also mentioned the possibility of an “adopt-a-park” system.

“We would like to encourage people to become active in their parks,” Ballew said, referring to the upkeep of those parks. “There are several of our parks that we need to upgrade and renovate.”

As for promoting access to and consumption of healthier foods, Ballew said that committee members have become very interested in starting a community garden. They also are talking to the Marysville School District about the system’s various menus. And finally, they could be looking for local restaurants to provide health and nutrition labels for their customers.

“That’s a topic that’s near and dear to their hearts,” Ballew said.

What’s not clear is if the city would have the authority to force restaurants to post labels. The program could end up being voluntary, but Ballew added cities elsewhere have taken steps to ensure eateries in their communities provide healthier offerings. As an example, Ballew said New York City has banned the use of certain fats in food preparation.

In search of community input, Ballew said the Healthy Communities Program will be distributing surveys at an outdoor film series just announced by the city. Movie titles are not yet available, but the first event is set for June 7 in Jennings Park. Offerings will be shown almost weekly from there after through September at various locations throughout Marysville.

The Healthy Communities Project got underway when the Snohomish County Heath District chose Marysville as the location for a pilot project that would utilize local municipalities to encourage better health. Officials have estimated some 60 percent of county residents are overweight, with north Snohomish possibly leading the way.

“We’re experiencing a kind of epidemic of obesity,” Erickson said. “It impacts all of us.”