For approximately 30 years, Ocala, Florida, residents have been able to enjoy the Jervey Gantt Recreational Complex Trail for fitness and recreation, but some new developments have turned this local mainstay into an exciting wellness destination. Still a work in progress, the trail has already been named a National Demonstration Site for Outdoor Fitness. Most importantly, however, its new features have been enthusiastically embraced by the residents of Ocala, where park professionals are already seeing a positive change in the community due to the improvement of the trail.
Jervey Gantt served as the recreation and parks director in Ocala for 28 years, and he was a major player in the Florida Recreation and Park Association, where he served as president and earned the Achievement, Fellow and Lifetime awards. Additionally, he was a member of the National Babe Ruth Baseball Hall of Fame and the Florida Tennis Association Hall of Fame. In 1984, the city recognized Gantt’s contributions to local athletics and youth recreation by naming the 36th Avenue sports complex in his honor. Today, Jervey Gantt Park, a 63-acre destination in the southeastern corner of the city, features tennis and racquetball courts, a dog park, a volleyball court, pavilions, a playground, a football field, a memorial garden for deceased children and a two-mile fitness trail.
Although the trail was heavily used by the community, Ocala Parks and Recreation staff knew it had more potential, so they began thinking of ways to enhance the pathway. First, the asphalt surface was cracked and damaged, and portions of it were still uncovered clay, so they knew it would need to be resurfaced. Next, the existing fitness equipment was tired and worn, so they wanted to update the different stations as well. A primary goal was to make the trail attractive to a wide variety of users while still providing quality opportunities for fitness, so this aim would need to be factored into any renovation decisions. Finally, any improvements would need to be high-quality, low-maintenance and durable.
“The Jervey Gantt Recreation Complex Trail is our most heavily used trail,” says Julie Johnson, parks division head for Ocala. “Our goal was to install equipment that would appeal to all levels and ages and that is likened to equipment you would find in a fitness center. We have been working with GameTime through Dominica Recreation Products since 2008 on playground projects and are very pleased with their products, prices, warranties and services.”
GameTime’s GTfit Advanced Series fit the bill perfectly, as the machines were intentionally “built from durable, low-maintenance materials and designed to look like the machines you find in professional health clubs,” according to GameTime’s website. This series of outdoor fitness products utilizes exclusive resistance technologies to offer a solid workout for users of all levels.
Ocala park officials, GameTime and Dominica Recreation Products began working together in 2013 to plan equipment types, locations and grouping to encourage maximum use and function. By pairing elements such as an elliptical machine and a chin pull-up or a lat pull-down with a hand cycle, the team created opportunities for fun and challenging workout experiences that could be customized to any user’s fitness level.
They also decided to start by adding the new equipment first and planned to resurface the trail later when the weather was more conducive. The team broke ground in November 2013, starting with city staff removing the old equipment and prepping the areas where the new equipment would be installed. GameTime installers with Fitzgerald Inc. then put the new equipment in place. “The trail was not closed during installation, so our users were able to watch the process, which created excitement,” says Johnson. “Installation took less than two weeks.”
Since the new features were installed, traffic along the trail has increased, and regulars have expressed their excitement for the improvements. “The new features have been well-received by the community,” Johnson shares. “They like that they can get a workout similar to what you can get at a fitness center while walking their favorite trail in a nice outdoor park setting. Some folks do this while their kids are at T-ball practice or tennis lessons.”
Because of the high level of commitment to community fitness that the improved trail showcases, it was chosen as a PlayCore National Demonstration Site for Outdoor Fitness, a significant honor for a city that strives to promote wellness for all its residents. “The City of Ocala has long been providing opportunities for our citizens to lead active, healthy lives,” Johnson says. “This project is an example of how Ocala is continually moving fitness forward to create a better way of life for our families.”
“The improvements to the trail will definitely impact the community in a positive way,” she continues. “Quality of place equates to quality of life.”
Danielle Taylor is the Senior Editor of Parks & Recreation Magazine.