Feature Article - September 2016
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Building Healthier Communities

The Ins and Outs of Outdoor Fitness Areas

By Dave Ramont

Exercise for All

TPL is a nonprofit whose vision is to have a park within a 10-minute walk of everyone in America's cities. They also strive to provide opportunities for people to be healthy and fit, and realize that finding a place to exercise can be challenging for many. So for the past six years, they've been installing Fitness Zones around the country—approximately 100 so far.

"We tend to focus on low-income, underserved areas where you have a combination of both challenging health outcomes and a need for more low-cost or free facilities, and these are free," Benepe said.

Benepe explained that in some cases TPL does the installation using contractors they've procured, while in other cases they partner with local parks agencies that do the installation. "Classically, we'll work in partnership with a park agency, and we'll raise some of the funding and usually match with some public funding. If necessary, we'll do the procurements, which is what we do in places where we have a big program going on, say Los Angeles or Miami."

He said that prices can range from $50,000 to $60,000 for a simple, small installation to much more for a grander installation with many forms of exercise equipment and other amenities like shade structures, bike racks, benches, trash receptacles or added landscaping. But he pointed out that "Even if you have a lot of bells and whistles, it's still a quarter of the price of a small, one-acre playground."

Sometimes TPL combines Fitness Zones and playgrounds, putting the fitness equipment next to the playground so adults can work out while watching their children play. Plus, "The kids can play and watch the grownups work out, and that serves an important function because the adults are modeling an exercise habit," Benepe said.

Wiechmann agreed, adding, "Parents like the convenience of exercising while their children are playing."

Curran mentioned that in his district, they're putting in a new playground and are going to add three exercise machines next to it to see if there might be parents bringing their kids to the playground who might want to do some exercise themselves.

In Southern Florida, the Broward County Parks and Recreation Division teamed up with Memorial Healthcare Systems to open two wheelchair-accessible outdoor fitness parks. The first, located in T.Y. Park in Hollywood, opened in December 2013. The second opened in December 2015 and sits inside Brian Piccolo Sports Park (BP) in Cooper City. Both parks have a roughly two-mile exercise loop, and the fitness parks are situated alongside the paths. Memorial had been looking for an appropriate way to celebrate its 60th anniversary and give back to the community, and the fitness parks were just the solution. They're now looking at installing fitness areas in four other county parks.

T.Y. Park has a Walking Club with more than 2,500 registered walkers. Senior Park Manager Margie Grimes said their fitness-minded patrons love the equipment and their attendance numbers on weekdays in the morning and evening has increased greatly because of it. "We've seen a tremendous increase in personal trainers and meet-up groups coming here to work out."

Will Regalado, senior park manager at BP, said that his patrons also tend to use the fitness equipment mostly in the mornings and late afternoons/early evenings. He pointed out that BP is the only county park solely dedicated to athletics. "The park has always been a haven for fitness-minded individuals, and now those same patrons can incorporate the fitness areas into their routines."

The parks purchased their equipment from the same manufacturer, who helped with the initial layouts and also assisted in recommending the installation company or hiring a contractor to pour the concrete slab. Both parks selected 12 machines, four of which are wheelchair-accessible. And while Grimes and Regalado have both noticed all machines being used equally, Grimes mentioned that everyone seems to want to try the cardio stepper first. And, according to Regalado, BP plans to add a canopy, water fountain, mister and some lighting so the equipment can be used in the evening.