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On the move

Last Wednesday, a picnic gathering celebrated five years of projects generated by Active Living Douglas County and community partners. The event was held at Big Ole Park and featured recent additions to the park's shelter, Walk and Explore Maps, a Central Lakes Bike Trail map and master plan for the park, which the Active Living group helped create. (Photo by Amy Chaffins)

Active Living Douglas County (ALDC) recently celebrated five years of progress. They're a local coalition geared toward building a community that supports physical activity.

Over the years, brainstorming sessions have evolved into planning, design and programs; things like the Cycle to Work program, bike racks installed outside businesses, promotion for living an active lifestyle, creation of Community Walking Maps and more.

In 2008, a five-year, $575,000 grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield's Center for Prevention launched the ALDC and its ideas for fostering a community for active living.

"A lot of the money has gone toward planning and design," explained Sandy Tubbs, ALDC organizer and Douglas County Public Health director. "Oftentimes, the infrastructure to make some of these things happen is extremely expensive but we can't even get there until we have a plan for how it's going to happen and the design so people can see what it might look like."

Tubbs said the Big Ole/Central Park master plan is an example of how some of the funds were used to create a vision for the future.

"The funds have very much gone for that kind of work," she said.

A few of the projects and planning over the past five years include:

--Complete Streets progress: Secured community support and funding for infrastructure projects in downtown Alexandria that incorporate a Complete Street concept, where roadways are designed to be conducive to walking, biking and vehicle traffic. The most significant of the Complete Streets projects will be the completion of a reconstruction project on Broadway Street downtown in 2014.

--Cycle to Work program: Worked with four businesses to begin Cycle to Work programs. Each site motivated employees to bike to and from work in an effort to build a healthy workforce.

--Safe Routes to School: Partnered with Discovery Middle School, Voyager Elementary School and Lincoln Elementary School to complete Safe Routes to School travel plans. The travel plans provide the community with steps to create safer and easier ways for children to walk and bike to and from school.

--Improved comprehensive planning: Advocated for the incorporation of active living principles in the Douglas County and city of Alexandria comprehensive plans. This helps ensure land use plans include amenities to support physical activity, like bike lanes, parks, sidewalks and trail systems that connect residents to popular destinations.

--Bike rack match program: Partnered with the Alexandria Bicycle Club to place 32 new bike racks across Douglas County through a 50-50 cost share with local businesses.

--Community Walking Maps: Created and distributed more than 9,000 copies of walking maps in Alexandria, Osakis, Brandon and Evansville. Maps are designed to encourage residents and visitors to learn about and enjoy their city on-foot.

"It has exceeded beyond what any of us could have imagined at that time," Tubbs said. "We know if we envision it, and have enough determination, we can make it happen. Certainly, the grant money has been helpful, but what we have right now is a plan and that's been the value of the grant and we know we will continue to work to bring to light everything we've dreamed about over the last five years."


As ALDC moves into the future, the group intends to build on accomplishments made over the last five years, according to Peterson.

In light of the grant funding coming to an end, it is ALDC's intent to pursue other funding opportunities as they arise, according to Jessica Peterson, an ALDC organizer and Douglas County Public Health employee.

The goal, she said, is for residents and visitors to see tangible things in the community to make it easier to be physically active in their daily lives.

Tubbs said, "I do not see this as the end, but rather a point at which we celebrate what has happened in the last five years, but we also celebrate what's yet to come and we have a lot of great ideas."

Amy Chaffins

Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.

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