Charles City County ranks below most other Virginia counties in terms of the overall health of its residents, at 91st out of 133 localities. A 34 percent adult obesity rate and a 32 percent physical inactivity rate place it above state and national averages, and the diabetes rate is 14.4 percent compared to 9.3 percent statewide, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Compare these statistics with a correlating one from U.S. News and World Report’s Healthiest Communities rankings: Charles City County’s walkability index score—a measure of how well the design of a locality encourages walking—is 3.7, compared to the state’s average of 8.4.
The county’s department of parks and recreation is working to change those numbers, says Kimberly Barrow, the department’s director. “People told us they want a safe place for their child to play while they get some exercise. We want to make sure they have the resources to live healthy lives.”
A $25,000 Get Outdoors grant from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation will help answer that need, by funding the addition of a walking loop to Harrison Park, the county’s historic baseball park. Once home to the Charles City County Black Sox, a semi-professional African American team active from the early 1930s until 1988, Harrison Park is the ideal spot for a recreational trail, says Barrow. “It’s already fenced in and perfectly set up for a trail around the periphery. It’ll be easy for caregivers to use the trail and keep an eye on the kids playing.”
The design of the trail also keeps users with diverse abilities in mind. “We want to make sure everyone who wants to get out there can,” Barrow explains. “There will be ADA-accessible ramps, and the trail will be wide enough to accommodate all sorts of users. There will be an asphalt loop for people who are more comfortable on a smooth surface, but a second loop extending from that one will be gravel. It’s a more giving surface for those who need one.”
The county is planning an upgrade to the playground, tennis and basketball courts at the park and working with the local library to add a story walk to the new trail. Other partnerships include Sports Backers, which will offer free outdoor fitness classes.
“We are very focused on addressing the social determinants of health in a parks and recreation context,” Barrow says. She hopes to see people using the new trail and park amenities by early next year. “We just put out a request for proposals on trail grading and construction. We’re really excited to be getting to work.”