On Sunday, April 24, a healthy crowd of kids and families gathered at the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Asheville Visitor Center TRACK Trail to celebrate National Park Rx Day. The event was held in celebration of National Park Week and as the kick-off of the Kids in Parks program’s TRACK Rx materials.
Through the TRACK Rx program, doctors and health-care providers will be able to install health related hiking materials in the lobbies of their offices; and some of them will begin writing TRACK Rx prescriptions to their patients in order to encourage them to participate in outdoor activities in nature, including going for a hike on one of the Kids in Parks program’s TRACK Trails.
During the event on Sunday, the kids and families in attendance learned what a Park Prescription (Park Rx) was from the Leesa Brandon, Partnership and Public Information Officer for the Blue Ridge Parkway, and about the National Park Service’s effort to get more doctors to prescribe nature and parks to kids.
Then, Dr. Olson Huff prescribed the kids and families in attendance to go for an educational hike with NPS ranger Carol Petrovic. As Dr. Huff filled out the life-sized prescription, he said, “I’m prescribing nature activities to ‘kids everywhere’, and encouraging them to, ‘play outside, go for a hike, run or bike ride, and have an adventure on a TRACK Trail.” He also added that they should, “eat healthy food!”
Dr. Harold Kowa, of Blue Sky Pediatrics in Asheville, NC, was also in attendance. He stated that, “Pediatricians care about the health of their patients! One way to encourage them to be healthier is by prescribing them to get active outdoors with their families.”
The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation’s Kids in Parks program began nearly seven years ago through partnerships formed with the National Park Service and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation. The original mission of the program was to get kids and families to think about the trails along the Parkway as resources for their health. They accomplished their mission through the development of TRACK Trails—a network of trails that use self-guided brochures to engage kids in active outdoor adventures that foster a meaningful relationship with nature. The program allows kids to register their hikes and earn free prizes for tracking their adventures through their website (kidsinparks.com).
“The program’s taken off over the past 6 years,” said Jason Urroz, the program’s Director. “We started off with one TRACK Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and now have more than 135 TRACK Trails spread across the country, creating an expansive network of opportunities for kids and families to get unplugged, outdoors and reconnected with our parks and public lands. We even have a trail that goes around the White House!”
Since the beginning of the program, more than 180,000 kids have hiked 160,000 miles, spent nearly 80,000 hours outdoors, and burned more than 25,000 calories. And, that’s just the kids! The program’s average group size is 3.59 people, allowing those numbers to be multiplied to determine the overall health benefits gained by the families that have hiked TRACK Trails.
Urroz said, “Due to the size of our trail network, and our ability to cross agency boundaries, Kids in Parks has the ability to partner with pediatricians and health-care providers to prescribe TRACK Trails to kids. It really is exciting to be able to affect the health of our kids, and the health of our parks, through this important work”.