Prescribing The Path to Wealth and Fitness

Betty Joe Walking Park Prescription Program

Longtime Sitkan Betty Joe Whitcomb takes her daily walk among the totem poles at Sitka National Historical Park.

NPS Photo by Michael Hess

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News Release Date: June 24, 2013

Prescribing the Path to Wealth and Fitness

Longtime Sitka walker wins $100 at the first quarterly drawing of completed Park Prescription cards.

Sitka National Historical Park -- While many visitors are enriched physically and mentally walking the trails at Sitka National Historical Park, one walker also became a little wealthier this month as a participant of the Park Prescription Program.

Betty Joe Whitcomb was the first recipient of the quarterly drawing of completed Park Prescription cards, earning her the $100 cash prize, and recognition at a brief ceremony at the park’s second annual National Trails Day earlier this month. 

As a longtime Sitka resident Betty Jo has walked the popular Totem Trail at the national park every day for several years, interacting with out-of-town visitors, meeting old friends, and enjoying the rich cultural history and natural beauty of the park. Even with the other 20 program participants, her odds of winning were good this quarter. 

She stops by the park visitor center each day after her walk, presenting her Park Prescription punch card to one of the rangers for verification of her activity. As much as she walks, Betty Joe expects to have at least another card completed before the next drawing in October. 

“[The prize] adds a little extra incentive,” said Ann Wilkinson, president of the Sitka Community Hospital Foundation, the local organization that funded the prize and also purchased waterproof cellphone cases for Park Prescription participants, which conveniently also fits a folded prescription card. 

“The more cards you fill up, the better your chances to win the money and, most importantly, the better you’ll feel,” she said. 

Betty Jo found out about the program in the local newspaper, but many other walkers learn about the program from their doctors – as a real prescription for real ailments. Sharing thoughts about the Park Prescription’s fountainhead initiative, Call to Action #6: “Go Take a Hike, and Call Me in the Morning,” National Parks Service director Jonathan B. Jarvis said, “Being outdoors has positive effects on health that don’t cost a dime” – a feeling shared by the participating local doctors. 

As a preventative measure, walking reduces the risks of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, improves mental health and provides many other health benefits. Eric Jordan, another regular Sitka walker and the first person to fill his Park Prescription logged 180 miles in his first 5 weeks, and later received a clean bill of health from his doctor. In other cases, cardiac patients recover with regular walks on the park’s improved trails, and mental health providers write scripts for exercise and sunshine. 

The freedom for participants to achieve their health goals at their own pace, creating their own personal exercise regime is among the stated strengths of the program, along with low startup costs. 

This focus on personal responsibility was also what attracted the attention of Sitka Health Summit board members when they granted support for the program last year, said Patrick Williams, health educator at the Sitka Community Hospital and a member of the Summit. The Summit meets every year to grant seed money to low-cost, high-gain community wellness opportunities. 

This year the Summit invested another $250 that will go towards printing another batch of Park Prescription cards that will be available to local healthcare providers. 

Though a fledgling program with ambitious goals, already people like Betty Joe Whitman, Eric Johnson, and the other diligent walkers, strollers, and runners are punching their Park Prescription cards for health, and maybe even a little wealth, on the trails of Sitka National Historical Park. 

For more information about the Park Prescription program as a healthcare provider, participant, or volunteer, contact Carin Farley, Sitka National Historical Park chief ranger and program coordinator, at (907) 747-0110.

Story and photo by Michael Hess, Park Ranger, Sitka National Historical Park

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