With the nice weather finally upon us and some COVID-19 restrictions still in place, many people have been spending more time outside.

Crystal Hoepner with Horizon Public Health said exercise during this time is so important for mental health, along with a person’s well-being and to help reduce obesity.

“A silver lining for COVID-19 is people have slowed down, spent more time with their families and got outside,” said Hoepner.

Several years ago, public health received a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield and developed Active Living Douglas County. The grant was for five years, said Hoepner. During that time, maps were created with walking routes around the county. Alexandria maps were first created, then maps for Brandon, Evansville, Osakis and Garfield were added.

“We wanted to increase opportunities for people to be active in their own communities,” said Hoepner. “We tried to focus on routes that would be good for people to use on their lunch breaks and with their families.”

A coalition of partners were formed in each community and those are the people who helped develop the maps. On each of the maps, there are key points to look for, some are historical. And because the maps were developed several years ago, some of the points, such as local businesses, may no longer exist. However, the routes are still functional.

A total of 20 maps were developed and are available on the Horizon Public Health website, horizonpublichealth.org/services/healthy-lifestyles/ship/.

Maps can also be found at many different area businesses, including Horizon Public Health, Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, Jake’s Bikes, Echo Press and many others throughout Douglas County.

Hoepner said although the BCBS grant is completed, public health is still actively working on opportunities for people to be active, but that it is now done through the Statewide Health Improvement Program through the Minnesota Department of Health.

SHIP is a statewide effort that not only focuses on increasing physical activity, but it also focuses on improving nutrition and reducing the number of people who use, or are exposed to, tobacco.

Map details

For the city of Alexandria, there are a total of five maps – ranging from 1.78 miles to 3.3 miles – with each one focusing on a different area of town.

The map for the Silk Stocking District (1.78 miles), for example, highlights six historic homes, such as the Vernacular Victorian, one and a half story house at 521 Seventh Ave. W. It was built by Lorenzo and Sarah Sims back in 1876. Mr. Sims started the first drug store in Alexandria, the map notes, and Sarah Sims was the sister of William Hicks, property owner in Alexandria. Later, George and Mary Robards, co-owner of Cowing-Robards Hardware, owned the house.

The map labeled Douglas County Historical Society (3.3 miles) includes, of course, the Douglas County Historical Society, as well as Noonan Park and the former Soo Line railroad.

On each of the maps for each of the five cities, not only are the key points marked, but there is a brief description included.

For example, one of the maps in Evansville highlights the Mound Grove Cemetery Memorial Park, which according to the map info, in 1963 Mr. Thompson submitted a park proposal to add water lines and to purchase the land around the cemetery. By May 31, 1965, the new park was dedicated and in the fall of 1971, a mausoleum was added to the facility.

Combining walking with learning bits of local history is a great idea, said Hoepner. And with COVID-19, it gives families a chance to get out, get some exercise and learn together.

The key points on this Alexandria walking map include Knute Nelson Ball Park, Douglas County Courthouse, Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, Runestone Museum and Fort Alexandria. (Contributed)
The key points on this Alexandria walking map include Knute Nelson Ball Park, Douglas County Courthouse, Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, Runestone Museum and Fort Alexandria. (Contributed)

This walking map in the City of Brandon includes the Veterans Memorial Park, the Brandon school and Grace Lutheran Church. (Contributed)
This walking map in the City of Brandon includes the Veterans Memorial Park, the Brandon school and Grace Lutheran Church. (Contributed)

The key points on this City of Evansville map include the fire department, city hall, post office and Faith Lutheran Church among others. (Contributed)
The key points on this City of Evansville map include the fire department, city hall, post office and Faith Lutheran Church among others. (Contributed)

The key points on the Osakis walking map including the Lake Osakis Public Access, Galeon and City Hall. (Contributed)
The key points on the Osakis walking map including the Lake Osakis Public Access, Galeon and City Hall. (Contributed)