Four Times Around the World: Walking Program Participants Log Serious Miles

Holland residents Peter and Carol Hintz have enjoyed an active, outdoorsy marriage for nearly 50 years.

Taking part in an Ottawa County Step it Up walking program this spring wasn’t out of the ordinary for them, but it did help the couple discover parks that were off their beaten path, such as Pigeon Creek Park, which boasts over 10 miles of hiking trails and overlook views of the Pigeon River.

“We knew they were there but hadn’t really taken the time to get out there,” Peter Hintz said.

Ottawa County Step it Up walkers on the trail. (Courtesy photo)
Ottawa County Step it Up walkers on the trail.
(Courtesy photo)

Along with introducing county residents to new recreation spots, walkers have covered some serious ground on foot. During the spring session, 615 Step it Up participants collectively walked 106,610 miles – that’s more than four times around the world! A fall session is currently in progress, with the support of a healthy recreation catalyst grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, as part of MI Big Green Gym, a partnership with MParks.

Amy Sheele is a health educator with the Ottawa County Department of Public Health. She said representatives from the health department and parks department had been discussing the idea of a walking program, but got it off the ground when United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released his call to action to communities to increase walking and encourage walkable communities.

“It was the nudge we needed,” Sheele said.

Participants aim to hit a mileage goal throughout the program, which they can track online. During the spring challenge, walkers were encouraged to virtually walk 288 miles from St. Ignace to Grand Haven, visiting parks and nature preserves along the way. Fall walkers are aiming for 225 miles, virtually tracking a route along the North Country Trail in the Upper Peninsula.

Stacey Sills is a health and prevention consultant for the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District. She took part in the challenge during the spring and facilitated participation for district employees as well. She said tracking the miles you walk during the program on a map is motivating and helped keep her and others on track.

“It’s cool to see where you are,” Sills said.

In her role, getting people to move on a regular basis is an important cornerstone of employee health and fitness programs. Walking is the perfect place to start because of its accessibility.

“Most of the time our challenges have to do with walking, because most everyone can do it,” she said.

Carol and Peter Hintz liked the conversation and all-ages community that sprung up at the walks. Carol Hintz said she talked to people who were recovering from injuries and trying to lose weight through the program. No matter how far or fast they walked “they were just as welcome as someone who wanted to do the whole thing twice,” she said. “I really appreciated that, that no one felt a sense of being diminished because they could not keep up with the others.”

“I just think it’s been a wonderful program,” Peter Hintz said.

Although registration is officially closed for the season, residents can still show up to remaining weekly group walks. Each walk has a naturalist to help participants enjoy the natural beauty of the park at a leisurely pace as well as a fitness leader for those that want to get their heart rate pumping.

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Main image photo credit: Jeff Blackler

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