News: Uncategorized

Posted on May 12, 2016

Goal V Spotlight: Mercer Island, Washington

The city of Mercer Island, Washington, population 24,098, has earned a gold medal for its work on Goal V: Active Kids at Play of Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties (LMCTC), a key part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative. Mercer Island, which has been named a KaBOOM! Playful City for the past eight years, has made active, healthy living a top priority. As part of this, the city has implemented programming that expands access to unstructured play and physical activity for young people.

LMCTC Goal V: Active Kids at Play

To increase physical activity, local elected officials commit to mapping local playspaces, completing a needs assessment, developing an action plan and launching a minimum of three recommended policies, programs or initiatives.

Background

For many years, Mercer Island has dedicated resources to promoting physical activity and healthy living. In addition to the 15 city-maintained playgrounds and playspaces there are over 30 parks and open space areas on the island. In total, Mercer Island is home to over 470 acres of public parks. The city also has a trail system that make it easy for residents to safely walk or bike to many of the island’s public parks and playgrounds.

Working with the Community

As part of the city’s efforts to promote community health, Mercer Island joined LMCTC in 2014. To support the initiative and help with the implementation process, the city created a Let’s Move! Committee, led by the Mercer Island Parks and Recreation Department. The committee is made up of ten local organizations, including the Mercer Island Preschool Association, the local Boys and Girls Clubs, the Mercer Island Library and the Mercer Island School District. These partners, who are advocates for play and physical activity, collaborate on programming ideas, provide financial support and help put on Let’s Move! events.

The Mercer Island Parks and Recreation Department has shared use agreements with several of their community partners, including the school district and the Boys and Girls Clubs. These agreements allow for city and public use of playgrounds, athletic fields and indoor gymnasiums on school district property, and expand opportunities for physical activity on Mercer Island.

Increasing Access to Play and Physical Activity

As part of the city’s 2014-2019 Parks and Recreation Plan, Mercer Island is in the process of adding trails and enhancing current trails to increase opportunities for safe bicycling and walking on the island and to promote physical activity. With the expansion of its trail system, Mercer Island hopes to create a continuous integrated pedestrian and bicycle system that makes it easy for residents to travel between neighborhoods and places of employment, schools, community facilities, parks and other destinations.

To help residents find convenient locations to be physically active, Mercer Island mapped all of the city’s playspaces using the KaBOOM! playspace mapping tool. The parks and recreation department also created a Mercer Island Park System Guide that residents can use to find play structures, parks, swimming areas and trails.

During the process of completing a needs assessment, the Mercer Island Parks and Recreation Department staff identified the need to increase access to spontaneous, unstructured play in the community. This means providing opportunities for local youth to be physically active without the constraints that organized sports or afterschool activities may impose.

One way that staff have done this is through Adventure Playground. Located in a wooded area in one of the city’s parks, Adventure Playground allows kids to create their own play adventure. Children receive toolboxes, building supplies and safety equipment, and parks and recreation staff guide them through the process of creating build-it-yourself tree houses and forts.

Another way that Mercer Island encourages kids to engage in unstructured play in the summertime is through the parks and recreation department’s Letterboxing program. Using clues from a special Clue Book, which is available for free at several locations in the city, kids search for the letterboxes that are hidden throughout Pioneer park. Each letterbox contains a stamp for kids to mark their book to show that they solved the clue. At the end of the summer, kids can turn their completed Clue Books into the parks and recreation department to be recognized at a Letterbox celebration held in late fall every year.

In addition to the special programming that the Mercer Island Parks and Recreation Department provides to encourage youth to get out and play, the city updates and remodels public playgrounds on a regular basis and adds new play structures every several years. This maintenance process ensures that city play areas remain safe and that they suit the needs of the Mercer Island community.

Promotion

As part of their efforts to encourage physical activity and spontaneous play, the Mercer Island Parks and Recreation Department uses a number of methods to promote their programs and special events. The city posts about programs and events on the Mercer Island Parks and Recreation website and Facebook page, distributes information in the monthly Parks and Recreation newsletter and emails promotional materials to the Parks and Recreation Department’s network of community members. Community partners also promote special events and programming by distributing promotional materials and including information in their newsletters.

Lessons Learned

One challenge for Mercer Island has been finding unique ways to get kids moving. Many kids spend so much time in front of a screen that many are more interested in playing videos games or watching TV than they are in being physically active or playing outside. Because of this, Mercer Island Parks and Recreation Department staff recognize it is important to be creative and find unique ways to get kids’ attention.

Not only can developing creative programs for kids be a challenge, promoting the programs and finding the resources to implement them can also be difficult. Mercer Island Parks and Recreation Department staff emphasize the importance of forming community partnerships in order to overcome these challenges. Collaborating with community organizations can often help cities, towns and counties find funding and promote events, as well as come up with new ideas. Partner organizations also often help pay for guest speakers or sponsor special events. Finally, community partnerships allow the Mercer Island Parks and Recreation Department to offer scholarships to low-income residents to attend recreation programs.

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