ASTORIA — An AmeriCorps Vista volunteer hopes to make your Clatsop County workplace a healthier place to earn your daily whole-grain bread.
Kayla Warner’s goal is to help businesses create wellness policies that encourage healthy habits.
It’s part of a larger program within The Way To Wellville, a five-year health challenge designed to improve the overall health of the community. Clatsop County was one of five communities around the nation selected in August to participate.
Part of the strategy includes healthier workplaces, Warner said.
“It doesn’t take much,” she said. “A lot of what we do is cost free.”
It can be as simple as encouraging workers to spend their breaks taking walks or doing stretches and hosting healthy pot-lucks for starters, she said.
In the long run it can give employers a strong return on investment in reduced sick leave, lower turnover and decreased healthcare costs, she added.
The Fort Clatsop unit of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Park started its own wellness initiatives years ago.
Health and well is a top priority, said Jennifer Bell, a biological technician at the park. It’s discussed during monthly safety meetings. She’s been involved with it for the past three years.
It was started by the former park superintendent David Semanski, she said
“He brought up the idea of having a health and wellness focus park-wide.”
The park recently opened a gym at the suggestion of employees.
“Within three or four months we ended up clearing out the space in the maintenance building,” she said.
A lot of the exercise equipment is second-hand, but it’s in good shape, she added.
Current Superintendent Scott Tucker got things going, and in about five months the gym opened.
Now, employees can pump iron, cycle and row their way to better health right next to the John Deere tractor, the lawn mowers, chainsaws and line trimmers that keep Fort Clatsop in good shape.
Employees can also participate in the Iron Ranger Challenge. It’s a program started at Mt. Rainier National Park three years ago.
It starts in January and runs 12 weeks with a set number of miles for the challenge. Fort Clatsop has participated for the past two years.
There’s talk of expanding it across the nation, Bell said.
Any exercise can be converted to mileage.
Moderate dancing for 20 minutes equals one mile; 10 minutes of vigorous basketball is another mile. Active gardening? That counts as well. Employees put in 60 minutes of easy gardening, and that’s another mile toward the goal.
The 2013 challenge was 580 miles. The teams consisted of two to five members; each team member had to complete at least 100 miles.
Seventeen participated in 2013; 23 signed up in 2014.
Bell said the park has started to encourage hike meetings for office workers when possible. It’s a new program.
“If it’s one of those meetings where we could be mobile and walking, we’re encouraged to do that,” she said.
She works outside already, removing invasive plants, working on restoration projects and monitoring wildlife, so most of her meetings are already on the go.
The National Park Service offers a $20 monthly subsidy to employees who bike to work, Bell said. It helps pay for bike maintenance and other costs for getting to work by pedal power.
The park’s employment fluctuates from a high of 45 to 50 in the summer to about 15 during the winter, she said. Giving them healthy options is part of a growing trend.
Bell’s noticed a push for health and wellness by the National Park Service over the past year.
“It seems like throughout the nation, starting in D.C., and all over in our region, there seems to be a big push for all of us to adopt health and wellness practices in the parks,” she said.
The goal of Wellville is healthier living, Warner said, but it could offer tourism-dependent North Coast businesses another marketing tool. As new attitudes take hold, the county could become known for health and wellness, she hopes.
Lake County, Calif.; Spartanburg, S.C., Greater Muskegon, Mich., Niagara Falls, N.Y., are the other participating in the Way to Wellville.