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Active Southern West Virginia continues to grow

By Sarah Plummer

The Register-Herald

FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. — Preparing to enter its third summer, Active Southern West Virginia continues to grow its programming and improve access to physical activities and healthy lifestyle choices for Nicholas, Fayette, Raleigh and Summers counties.

Becka Lee, coordinator for the Community Captains Program, said she continues to work recruiting volunteers to take the reins of free weekly activities.

Community captains are local leaders who are trained to form and lead these free activities.

“It is cool we take that approach because it is a lot more open for people to join,” said Lee. “Participants see neighbors or family members there, and most leaders are themselves trying to get more active. It helps them stay on track, too.”

Types of programs offered across the four-county region are walking groups, tai chi and and gentle yoga. In Fayette County, for instance, one group meets at the New River Humane Society to walk dogs, getting exercise while providing community service. A growing community tai chi class is offered at the Southern Appalachian Labor School in Oak Hill, and there is a chair yoga class at the Whipple Company Store in Scarbro.

Executive Director Melanie Seiler said the 12-week Oak Hill tai chi has between 21 and 23 regular, dedicated attendees.

While there are many successes, starting a new program can prove challenging, she said.

A new basic exercise and stretching class at the Raleigh County public library last week had no attendees.

“When this happens, we look at changing the location or offering a different type of physical activity. Part of the challenges of this area is making sure there are opportunities for classes people are interested in and that are accessible,” she said.

All programs focus on reaching members of the public who are not currently engaged in physical activity, and all programming is developed for beginning and introductory levels, she said.

In 2015, Active Southern West Virginia partnered with the New River Gorge National River to boost activity in the park. They used Camp Brookside in Summers County as a bootcamp to train community captains and offer programs. At that location, 14 community captains were trained and 75 free programs over five months served 368 participants, said Lee.

In 2017, the group plans to expand that pilot across the New River Gorge National River and recruit community captains to lead classes in stand-up paddle boarding, guided hikes, trail running, cooking classes, meditation, rock climbing, snowshoeing, yoga and more.

Park programming is meant to break the illusion that national parks are only for tourists, she said.

Kids Run Program director Malorie Polster said the school-based running group is on track to expand to 16 schools in the spring.

The program is a noncompetitive activity meant to foster a love of running as the group adds their mileage together. As a part of the group, they learn how to warm up, stretch and cool down after their runs.

Based on pre- and post-Kids Run Program surveys, students show a more positive outlook on physical activity and the amount of TV time decreases after participating.

“More kids report feeling like they would be able to go outside and be active,” said Polster. “It is about giving kids the confidence they need and a love for being active — for them to want to keep doing it for the rest of their lives.”

Biking and Walking Coordinator Andy Davis has been working with the City of Mount Hope to develop a one-mile fitness trail for walking and biking and a 3.7-mile rail trail leading to a growing network of trails in the New River Gorge National River called the Garden Ground Mountain Trail.

“That will become a big attraction, and Mount Hope is the closest community to them,” he said.

Mount Hope is moving forward on being a biking/walking-friendly community with the addition of four new bike racks and a public bike repair station.

Based on his work in Mount Hope, Davis is creating a manual to help other communities implement similar changes.

Looking into the new year, Seiler said Active Southern West Virginia will move toward workplace wellness programs, offering businesses ways to create a culture of health.

She also expects the Bridge Day 5K to continue to grow. Last year there were nearly 200 runners. She anticipates it will grow to 500 runners over the next few years.

The organization was developed through the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority in 2014.

— Email: [email protected]; follow on Twitter @Sarah_E_Plummer

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