By Rachael Bailey
Gordon College News Service
September 26, 2011
(This story appeared Oct. 1, 2011, in the print and online editions of The Gloucester Times.)
Gloucester, MA—Two years ago, the City of Gloucester was one of 10 communities selected to receive a grant from Mass in Motion, an organization that encourages healthy living and fitness in the state of Massachusetts. From new sidewalks and bike racks to fitness fairs and farmers markets, the city has worked to transform the area into a “Fit-Friendly Gloucester” with still more to come.
In 2009 Gloucester officials dubbed this movement Get Fit Gloucester! and has since conducted a community-wide health evaluation. With the results, the city implemented a plan to make it safe and convenient to walk, bicycle and enjoy healthy foods.
“We looked at how the community supports physical activity in terms of walking and biking,” said Steve Winslow, senior project manager of Get Fit Gloucester! “And we talked to medical providers about their perspective.” With the help of local health care providers, the city was better able to identify health problems for residents.
Other evaluations consisted of synchronizing the individual concerns of civic leaders, city and school staffs, community organizations, medical providers and businesses to identify the collective community needs necessary for a “Fit-Friendly Gloucester.”
Since then, the $120,000 grant ($60,000 each year) from Mass in Motion has helped jumpstart a slew of projects in the area. Get Fit Gloucester! not only expends the funds on tangible projects, but also encourages its partnering local businesses, farmers markets, grocery stores, schools, and civic leaders to make their services more available to the people of Gloucester.
Some partnerships like the Cape Ann Farmers Market (CAFM) are making individual efforts through their Backyard Growers Program (BYG). The BYG is their largest contributor to the Get Fit Gloucester! vision. BYG helps low to moderate income residents of Gloucester to build and maintain sustainable backyard gardens by providing raised beds, compost, garden installation, seedlings, seeds, training, and mentoring.
“All partnerships with Get Fit Gloucester! use the Farmer’s Market to promote healthy eating,” said Niki Bogin, Cape Ann Farmers Market manager.
Another collaborator of Get Fit Gloucester!, the Open Door Food Pantry, has partnered with CAFM to work with the pantry’s Open Door Garden Project. The project offers training in planting and cooking. Julie LaFontaine, executive director of Open Door Food Pantry, says they take the health value of the food they offer very seriously. “The community has responded favorably to our services,” she said. “To have choices is the beginning to better nutrition.”
Still, Bogin isn’t sure CAFM customers even know there is a movement behind these programs and changes. “I don’t know if the community really knows about Get Fit Gloucester! as an entity,” said Bogin. “They just use the partners that Get Fit Gloucester! has.”
But project manager Winslow believes that those who do know about the changes, respond well to them.
“It [Get Fit Gloucester!] does get recognition and more people are out there walking,” said Winslow. “If you ask people to be physically active in a community that doesn’t have sidewalks or safe parks, people will stay in their homes.”
After highlighting these needs, Gloucester also received an additional $50,000 in funds from the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to support the construction of Burnham’s Field Community Gardens in the winter and spring of 2011 to help make fresh food more accessible. These community gardens are a result of the first Open Space and Recreation Plan Gloucester conducted in twelve years. When the new plan came about in 2009, major areas of Gloucester were established as needing improvement. The plan prompted the upkeep of Gloucester High School’s Newell Stadium, Burnham’s Field, Green Street Fields and Mattos Field.
One of Gloucester’s largest ongoing projects is now the new Harbor Walk in downtown Gloucester. The $1.2 million project, which is slated for completion in 2012, will provide better access to recreational and cultural activities in Gloucester. The city was awarded a $500,000 State Grant from the Massachusetts Seaport Advisory Council to assist in creating the pedestrian pathway. Granite posts with etched glass or pressed metal markers will scatter the Harbor Walk that tell stories of Gloucester. Though the Harbor Walk is not directly funded by Get Fit Gloucester!, Winslow helped coordinate its construction to further the mission of Get Fit Gloucester!
In June 2011, another $50,000 in CDBG funds were dedicated to the construction of new sidewalks on East Main Street and Rocky Neck. Also in early August, the community added bicycle “sharrows” (stencils painted indicating a reserved lane for bikers) on the key bicycling routes in Gloucester.
With more to come—the completion of improving the pedestrian and bicycle conditions and planning for more access to the West Gloucester woods—Winslow said Get Fit Gloucester! will be an ongoing process of improving the health of its residents.
“It’s daunting,” said Winslow. “It could take a while to change things.” The outlook on the fruits of Gloucester’s work could be from four to five years, but Winslow says he is confident the process will be worth the results.
“We’re only a couple years in,” said Winslow. “We have finished the minor projects and it just so happens we got the right resources at the right time.”
LoFontaine agrees there is still much to be done to improve Gloucester’s overall health. “It’s an ongoing job to manage peoples’ health,” she said. “I think Get Fit Gloucester! and all of its collaborators are moving in the right direction.”