Walktober is just around the corner; Governor Hogan’s month-long celebration of Maryland’s official exercise — walking.
When I was a kid, my mom used to take me on walks through our neighborhood, to the library, the ice cream shop, or the public pool, and sometimes just around the block. As a parent, I wanted to recreate that experience for my own kids.
When they were little, it was easy to get them to go for walks with me, but as they’ve grown, the call of electronics is like a siren song to my pubescent boys. So I’ve tried to get a little creative in encouraging them to go for walks with me. Wanting something that involved their phones, I found Pokemon GO, a game app based on the popular television shows and movies.
The point of the game is to walk around and catch the Pokemon characters on your phone as you encounter them, battle opponents at virtual gyms, and collect items necessary for in-game play. The best part is that kids must walk around to play the game; some goals can only be accomplished by walking certain distances.
So while I’m cognizant of how much screen time my kids are getting, sharing these walks where we hunt down Pokemon and battle rivals together is quality time I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Earlier this month, we talked about how our communities can make themselves more walkable. Specifically, we talked about how safety issues in a community can make people feel more or less comfortable walking there. But what if you are someone who prefers to exercise outdoors and not in your local neighborhood? Well, Maryland has some beautiful trails for all those looking to get out and do some hiking! But, there are still some important things you’ll want to do to stay safe on the trail.
First, you want to be prepared for everything the outdoors can throw at you! Weather is a big part of that. You might start your hike under sunny skies only for a sudden storm or shower to appear. So, you’ll want to bring layers. Ideally, you want to have some warmer or waterproof clothing you can put on or remove, depending on the situation. You’ll also want to make sure you have good shoes. Especially if shoes get wet, they can rub and cause blisters. So, make sure your gear is going to cover you, regardless of the weather.
Another part of being in the great outdoors is dealing with bugs. Although some bugs (like ticks) are more common in the spring and summer, they are still out there in the fall. Wearing long sleeves and long pants and using bug spray can help you avoid bugs.
While appropriate clothing and weather preparedness is helpful, accidents can still happen. So, you’ll want to have at least a basic first aid kit so you can handle cuts, blisters, stings, and bites that might occur along the trail.
A first aid kit is a great way to handle small injuries, but what about larger injuries or emergencies? The best way to handle these concerns is to be prepared and have a way to get help, if needed. When you get out on the trail, you can pay attention to whether or not you have phone signal. You likely won’t have signal all the time, but if you make note of places where you had signal then you can go back to them and call for help if needed. Another great way to stay safe is to hike with a buddy or group. That way, someone is with you to get help if needed. A final idea for staying safe is to make sure someone knows where you are going and when you should be back. That way, if you end up in a position where you can’t reach out for help, someone knows where you are and when to start looking for you if you aren’t back when you should be.
October is right around the corner, and if you’ve been following this blog then you know what that means: Walktober is coming! I’ve written a bit about it before, but as an overview, Maryland has an official state exercise (which is walking) and every October the state gets together to celebrate, learn about, and get involved with all things walking. You can find more information about Walktober at http://www.mdot.maryland.gov/walktober.
There are so many reasons to get excited about walking. It has important health benefits and can be a fun way to spend time with family and friends. But for some people, finding a place to walk can be difficult. Walking in the area surrounding your home or workplace is easiest for many people because it doesn’t require extra time to get to the place where you want to walk. But there are many places where people don’t feel comfortable or safe walking. Recently, people have started talking more about how Walkable certain places are. Walkability is a way to describe how safe, comfortable, and accessible areas are for pedestrians (or people who are walking there). One of the things Walktober focuses on is pedestrian safety, so I thought it would be good to talk about what community members can do to figure out if there are pedestrian safety issues in their area.
So what makes an area walkable? Things like even sidewalks, streetlights, landscaping, crosswalks and places to sit all make people feel walking in that area is safe and enjoyable. On the other hand, things like uneven sidewalks (or no sidewalks), litter, speeding cars, and lack of crosswalks makes people less likely to walk in an area. Often, people know right away whether they feel comfortable walking somewhere. However, it can be hard to explain exactly why you feel that way. As Walkability was researched and discussed, people also developed ways to measure Walkability. These measurement tools can be a great way to help you and people in your community identify changes that could be made in your area to encourage walking.
There are different ways to measure walkability. For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a Walkability Checklist you can do on your own wherever you live. University of Delaware has a different tool, the Walkability Assessment Tool, for government officials or others involved in making decisions about policies affecting walkability. AARP also has a couple of toolkits, one for individuals and another for people who might be interested in leading a larger community effort around walkability. These tools and more are great ways to get an idea of how walkable your area is and what could potentially be improved to encourage walking. Youth development programs (like 4-H or scouting organizations), community groups, and neighborhood groups are examples of groups that might be interested in assessing the walkability of their area. After that, consider getting involved with local leaders or local government to see if there are efforts going on in your area to improve walkability!
Even if you aren’t sure you are ready for a full walkability assessment, stay connected with Walktober! There will be local events (more information about those will be on the Walktober website) and Walkinars where community leaders, experts, and other officials will cover a variety of topics related to walking and pedestrian safety. You can register for the walkinars here! We hope you will get involved and enjoy everything Walktober has to offer!