Get Out and Get Active

September 1, 2015, Department, by David P. Burch, PLA

Here, the author enjoys a spot of golf at Waukesha County’s Naga-Waukee War Memorial Golf Course.  For several years, Waukesha County has ranked high as a healthy place to live, work and play, and it offers a great balance of communities, businesses, parks and open space, and resources. We are continually trying to improve and, in recent years, have focused on increasing access to and awareness of the many ways for people to stay active and improve their health. The last five words of our County Department of Parks and Land Use’s mission statement is, “the health of its citizens.”

Creating healthy places to live, work and play includes comprehensive planning and design. This occurs at several levels of our county and local municipalities, and uses the skills and knowledge of our staff of landscape architects and planners. Our efforts, coordinated with state agencies such as the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Department of Transportation and Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, allow for synergetic discussion, priorities and solutions. Comprehensive Park and Open Space Plans, and site-specific Master Plans developed by our staff and teams offer short- and long-term solutions that promote:


  • Improved access to active opportunities and healthy choices
  • Active living and play benefits awareness through multiple partnerships
  • Lean and efficient operations, with the focus on sustainability and enhanced revenue opportunities 


2012 to 2015 Initiatives

Collecting data, creating benchmarks and documenting progress are important elements of aligning agencies with potential funding sources. Waukesha County regularly updates its National Public Health Performance Standards Program (NPHPSP) and Local Public Health System Performance Assessment. This data allows us to understand opportunities for improvement and partnerships offering new avenues to educate and promote healthy and active living. Partnerships between health and park and recreation agencies offer a great opportunity for improving long-term health solutions. 

Our marketing theme for 2012 was, “Just Beyond Your Backyard,” playing on NRPA’s “America’s Backyard” theme. All year, outreach to and education for our citizens focused on communicating the accessibility of our parks and facilities to the public, improving our outreach to volunteers and youth and connecting to area businesses. 

At the December 2012 Workshop for Active Communities in the State of Wisconsin, agency teams discussed strategies for building places, programs and partnerships to promote more healthy and livable communities. And, for 2013, we launched the following 13 Great Ways to Better Health, promoting our park system:


  • Find and explore two new parks each season.
  • Walk a new trail each month. 
  • Bike a trail twice a month.
  • Swim at every one of the six beaches.
  • Picnic at each of the eight major parks.
  • Enjoy a nature or bird watching hike at the Retzer Nature Center.
  • Play with your dog at one of the dog exercise areas. 
  • Try the new mountain bike trails at Minooka Park (2014 host of the inaugural State of Wisconsin High School Mountain Bike Series)
  • Volunteer for an event/workday in the parks.
  • Run or snowshoe on a trail twice a week.
  • Go camping. 
  • Go sledding.
  • Discover ice skating at one of the ice arenas.


In 2014 and 2015, Waukesha County launched “How We Play, Where We Play, and Why We Play” to promote the park system and active play opportunities. This was a takeoff on the Wisconsin Bike Federation’s theme “How We Ride, Where We Ride, and Why We Ride.” 

We are continuing to offer a large community garden space at Expo/Northview Park, and we expanded the community gardens for vegetables and produce at Eble Park, working alongside the University of Wisconsin-Extension Master Gardeners Program to produce healthy vegetables for families and local agencies in need. At Retzer Nature Center, we expanded the exhibit garden space with raised gardens to showcase healthy native flowers and produce. The city of Waukesha launched its “Waukesha Walks” program, where local ambassadors lead neighborhood walks for fitness and historical interest. As a way to offer improved healthy benefit choices, the county partnered with the city and the school district to offer its employees and families, on a trial basis, a cooperative Health and Wellness Clinic to improve access to affordable healthcare. At Moor Downs Golf, a nine-hole golf course that’s celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, we added FootGolf. This activity benefits children as well as adults looking to try something new and active.

What’s Next?

As we build our Active Communities Team here at Waukesha County, we have done some research on methods and partners that will help us clutivate a healthier environment and higher quality of life by 2025. The role of park and recreation professionals, their agencies and staff have been evolving as we help our communities and our state achieve positive results in fighting obesity by improving opportunities for physical activity and better nutritional food habits. The process of coordinating this effort among related professions and agencies is important from a viewpoint of roles and responsibilities, and overall funding collaboration. This subject has grown immensely in the last five years, and has become a key topic at professional association conferences.

Communities and agencies across the country are building teams to address the national crisis of obesity. Providing a wide variety of choices for places with easy access for people to enjoy indoor and outdoor recreation is paramount to achieving success. Getting out and doing things, and moving away from the electronic, indoor, thumb-based activities that we have created for our children, will help to improve the chance of social interaction, play, recreation and enjoyment of nature’s beauty.  

For 2016, we are continuing to promote the Get Out and Get Active campaign, as getting and staying active, along with eating healthy and nutritious foods will go a long way in helping set the stage for healthy individuals, families and communities. We are making plans to elevate the role of parks and recreation in the journey of building more healthy and livable communities. This effort is connected to our strategic goals of improving quality of life opportunities, and setting the right stage for economic vitality in Waukesha County.

David P. Burch, PLA, is the Manager of the Waukesha County Department of Parks and Land Use. 


Additional Resources

If you are interested in learning more about healthy and livable communities, check out these references and resources: