WARRENTON — When it comes to heart health, doctors agree one of the best preventative measures a person can do is take a hike.
Clatsop County residents have a rare opportunity with miles of state and national park trails, waterfront paths and other various routes to get moving outside.
Scott Tucker, Lewis and Clark National Historical Park superintendent, saw an obvious connection between his park and the health of the local community.
Tucker is taking action this month with the first “Heart Healthy Hike,” a 2-mile hike led by Providence Seaside Cardiologist Dr. Robert Morse and Interpretive Park Ranger Sally Freeman.
The free hike will take place at 1 p.m. Feb. 28.
“We can provide a link for the community for health and well-being,” Tucker said. “I started this conversation last summer with local residents. People don’t realize they can go for a walk, a run or a hike and completely disappear in the trees. Sciences has proven getting fresh air is good for you.”
Morse will host a presentation in the Netul River Room at the park’s visitor center before the hike. He will discuss the risk factors for cardiovascular disease. After talking about heart health, Morse and Freeman will lead the group from the visitor center along the Netul River Trail.
The trail passes many highlights of the park including Fort Clatsop, where Lewis and Clark camped two centuries ago, and the Colewort Creek Restoration Project, where wetlands are being restored in old pastures.
Freeman, a local park ranger for the past 25 years, said she will answer questions and share some history along the hike. She plans to make an analogy between health of the human body and the health of the wetlands at the park. Both need proper channels for blood or water to flow, she said.
“We are keeping the inside of us healthy and the site healthy, too,” Freeman said.
While the Heart Healthy Hike, represents a budding relationship between the park and Providence Seaside Hospital, Tucker said, it also falls in line with the National Parks Service initiative, “Healthy Parks Healthy People.”
The initiative, established in 2011, was developed to reframe the role of parks and public lands as a wellness strategy.
Improving health in local communities is also one of 39 goals the NPS set to accomplish as it prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2016.
“Parks are a benefit. They allow folks to get out and be active, both as an individual and as a family,” Tucker said. “It provides more opportunities for local communities that they didn’t know they had.”
Providence Seaside Hospital spokeswoman Paulette McCoy said the Heart Healthy Hike is just the beginning of other health-related events across Clatsop County. The hospital is working with Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District on similar projects. Plans are in the works for a diabetes run and free talks with doctors.
“We have some plans to do quite a few events this year,” McCoy said.
Park prescription program
In the coming months, Tucker plans to take the health conversation out of the park and into doctors’ offices with a proposed park prescription program.
The idea is, local doctors will write prescriptions for people that simply say, “Take a hike.” The person will take the prescription to Lewis and Clark National Historical Park and receive a year pass for free.
The LCNHP association has already budgeted to fund 250 visitors, who present a park prescription, with a year’s pass.
“Clatsop County residents will have another way to connect with their national park,” Tucker said.
Tucker plans to hire an intern this summer who will be tasked specially with developing the park prescription program. The intern will catalog all recreation opportunities into a brochure that will be available in doctors’ offices.
The ultimate goal with the park prescription program is to expand it to more recreation areas.
“I don’t care if they come to my park. The bigger picture is, look at all of these parks and recreation areas. Go out and use them,” Tucker said. “Hopefully, they will come to our park and create a lifelong love of the outdoors and the National Park Service.”
Trail running series
The focus on health will continue at the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park throughout the year with a new trail running series.
Three trail races will be held in March, June and September. The first trail run will start at 10 a.m. March 21. The second will be at 6 p.m. June 20 and the third will be at 10 a.m. Sept. 26.
The cost to race is $10, which will include a year’s pass to the park.
“We already know people run our trails, so we turned it into some formal races,” Tucker said.
As plans continue to develop for a park prescription program and upcoming trail runs, Tucker said, the recent focus on health starts with the Health Heart Hike, later this month.
“This is Phase 1,” Tucker said. “If Dr. Morse can talk about the benefits and we put a ranger there and sent people on a hike, it’s a win-win.”