By: Community Program Director, Rachel Hultin
The morning of October 24th, Jonathon and I rolled into San Luis, a small town with fewer than 700 people in southern Colorado. This was the last of 3 trips to the area to work with the amazing Costilla County Public Health team to develop a walking program in partnership with CPC Community Health.
With a box full of “Costilla County Walks!” t-shirts and 2 dozen custom water bottles in the back of the car, we were excited to lead community members on their choice of a 60 minute ramble or a 30 minute Main Street Scavenger Hunt in conjunction with the ribbon cutting of the new Great Outdoors Colorado outdoor fitness equipment.
We were greeted by our wonderful Costilla County partner, Honey Quintana, who shared that a contractor had torn up the sidewalks around the fitness equipment and the volleyball team had qualified for regionals. Meaning: most everyone in town was on the road to cheer for their student athletes and the fitness yard was too dangerous for an event. We only had a few amazing people for the walks, each one with beautiful stories of their connection to one another and the area. Such is the way of life in small towns.
The next day, Jonathon, myself and Chris from CPC hosted a booth at the Spanish Peaks Community Health Fair in Walsenburg. Over the course of 3 hours, we chatted with people from the region about how and where and when they walk. We heard stories of rattlesnakes, stray dogs, beautiful trails, surprising walking companions and challenges connecting with neighbors; all told by people looking for ways to thrive in their community. We returned home with a vast appreciation for the tenacity of Southern Colorado residents.
Our time in San Luis and Walsenburg is an important step for Walk2Connect as part of our vision to lead the walking movement statewide. Through the generous support of CPC Community Health, Walk2Connect was able to come alongside 2 smaller towns and learn how to support walking trip leaders in their community and how to adapt our programming to their built environment.
Jonathon and I are completely smitten with the beauty of the area and feel immensely privileged for the opportunity to learn and grow with the healthy community leadership invested in the region. However, we came to learn that while we were “ooooh-ing” and “aaaah-ing” over the beautiful peaks and bucolic rolling pastures, the people living there deal with the challenging reality of insufficient resources to pave roads and build sidewalks. The lack of access to a variety of fresh foods. Minimal indoor recreational facilities. And encounters with wildlife [snakes and stray dogs] discourage many from taking walks along the country roads closest to their homes.
As with any community program, there is no magic bullet. Walk2Connect can’t wave a magic wand to solve the infrastructure and funding issues that create very real barriers to walking. But we can support champions already in the community who will encourage and inspire others to join social walking groups. To feel the personal, social and emotional wellness that naturally occurs after 20 minutes of sharing a stroll with others. And as our champion partners show up week after week and deepen those connections within their communities, we can return in the spring to help San Luis and Walsenburg take the next steps towards [email protected]