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Grants breathe new life into Northern Panhandle Projects

Photo Provided Former West Virginia University student Sarah Melanson runs on the Rail Trail, which stretches through Marion, Monongalia and Preston counties. The eastern end of trail will soon extend to Reedsville in Preston County as part to a grant from Take Back Our Health WV, a project spearheaded by the WVU College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — From Wheeling to Williamson, West Virginians will gain new and improved options to get active with a leisurely stroll or bicycle ride, thanks to a statewide project involving West Virginia University.

The Center for ActiveWV has announced a slate of inaugural grant funding for 13 projects that increase or improve pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure in communities, schools and health centers across the state. The funding comes part of the center’s Take Back Our Health WV initiative.

Four of the grants are for initiatives in the Northern Panhandle.

Spearheaded by the WVU College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences, Take Back Our Health WV launched in 2019 with the goal of improving the lives of West Virginians through increased access to healthy foods and physical activity opportunities.

“We are excited to put wind in the sails of the physical activity champions across the state who are already doing great work,” said Sam Zizzi, associate dean for research at CPASS and coordinator for the Center for ActiveWV.

The grants, which range up to $5,000 each, will go toward these projects:

∫ City of Wheeling Parks and Recreation: Improve bike infrastructure in Wheeling with reinstallment and improvement of bike lane pavement marking.

∫ Warwood School in Wheeling: Add a bike rack, provide helmets and bike locks and encourage use through student-led bike safety and bike-to-school programs.

∫ CHANGE Inc. and Weirton Elementary School-Based Health Center: Improve a trail at Weirton Elementary School and install exercise equipment on the trail for use by the school and community.

∫ City of Sistersville and Sistersville General Hospital: Repair a walking trail in Sistersville that connects Prigga Park and a sporting field, and install outdoor walking equipment.

∫ City of Buckhannon: Connect the central hub of downtown Buckhannon and popular trailheads by mapping routes using kiosks, wayfinding signs and painting sidewalks and streets.

∫ Monongahela River Trails Conservancy: Connect the Deckers Creek Rail Trail to a Reedsville neighborhood and community park by building a trail connector.

∫ Williamson Health and Wellness Center: Improve trail awareness and signage, and establish a Storybook Walking Trail in west Williamson through a student-led project and community volunteer workdays.

∫ City of Oak Hill: Increase signage and mapping on the White Oak Rail Trail, Harlem Heights Loop Trail and trails in Needleseye Park to promote recreational trail use.

∫ Kanawha State Forest Foundation: Install a wheelchair platform swing and other Americans with Disabilities Act-complaint playground equipment as well as a Braille activity board at the trail entrance.

∫ WVU Medicine Potomac Valley Hospital: Create community track in Mineral County and encourage use through clinical physical activity prescriptions and referrals.

∫ Shenandoah Community Health Foundation: Restore an existing trail in Martinsburg and encourage usage through clinical physical activity prescriptions and referrals.

∫ Healthy Berkeley and University Healthcare Foundation: Improve and map trails in Poor House Farm Park and WVU Medicine Berkeley Medical Center, including a handicapped-accessible trail.

∫ WVU Medicine Walk with a Future Doc: Encourage patients to walk for 60 minutes through organized group walks in which patients can talk with medical students and physicians.

Grant recipients expressed gratitude for the funding, which will enhance physical activity and the overall well-being of their communities.

“The wheelchair-accessible playground at Kanawha State Forest will be the first of its kind in the West Virginia State Parks system,” said Jennifer Bauman, volunteer coordinator, Kanawha State Forest Foundation.

A wheelchair-platform swing will be installed on a solid rubber foundation to facilitate visitors in wheelchairs, she added.

“This funding is very strategic for us not only from a financial standpoint but for West Virginia as a whole to create access for everybody to get outdoors and to have recreational options,” Bauman said.

The Storybook Walking Trail in Williamson will not only benefit physical health but provide an educational experience for youngsters, as well.

“Through the implementation of a health ambassadors’ program at Williamson PK8, we are engaging our youth to become community champions through co-designing solutions,” said Amy Dearfield Hannah, community resource network director, Williamson Health and Wellness Center. “The Storybook Trail will provide an opportunity for all students to be engaged in physical activity while completing classroom assignments or while simply reading a book.”

One of the primary goals of Take Back Our Health WV is to help shrink obesity in West Virginia, which leads the nation in adult obesity at 39.5 percent, according to nonprofit Trust for America’s Health.

A key ingredient to reversing that course is by empowering communities to take charge of their health, Zizzi said.

“Some of our community partners will create new or enhanced locations for residents to walk, and others will create policies promoting shared use of facilities or incentivizing physical activity in some way,” Zizzi said. “The reason that policy and environmental changes are so important is that those changes affect almost everyone equally, especially if all types of users, kids, older adults, people with a disability, are considered. We want being active to be the easy choice in all West Virginia communities and these projects help us move closer toward that goal.”

“The mission of the Center for ActiveWV is to successfully impact a physically active culture in West Virginia through collaboration, research, policy and practice,” said Eloise Elliott, Ward Distinguished Professor at CPASS and director of the center.

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