Pierre Poised to Make a Trail a Playground

Pierre, SD | January 2013 | By National Recreation and Park Association

Pierre Poised to Make a Trail a Playground 410

A collaborative group of local leaders in Pierre implemented a program for physicians to provide “wellness prescriptions” to their patients – children, adults, and the elderly. One tangible part of this program was a physical map of all outdoor recreation activities available in and around the city. A group that included the public health and recreation departments as well as the largest private employer in the town, the local hospital, and school personnel worked on completing and linking trails, providing more access to trails and promoting the use of existing trails to residents.

As the group was looking at the map, however, they noticed a large space where no trails, playgrounds, pools, or other wellness infrastructure was available. “It was a powerful visual – to see a map of recreation activities with, literally, nothing - across a large space” says a Parks and Recreation staff member.

A plan quickly emerged to provide creative new physical activity experiences in an underserved area of Pierre where a new trail section was being developed. The idea of a “play trail” emerged as the ideal solution to fill the activity void. Like a playground, this trail would have structures upon which children and adults can play. A play trail differs from the traditional playground by spreading activities over a distance, providing opportunities for walking or running between the structures. The idea is to keep families moving together, rather than have children play while adults sit and watch. 

Unfortunately, the innovative play trail project and work completing the existing trail system infrastructure were both derailed by a catastrophic flood. While members of the collaborative were evacuated from their homes due to the water, some sections of trail were literally underwater for several months. 

The flood brought the work to a standstill. In addition to 3 members of the wellness collaborative moving out of town for new career opportunities, several other members were directly or indirectly affected by the flood. The City of Pierre, which is also the state capital, shifted priorities to address immediate and pressing concerns around clean up and economic recovery from the flood.

But as the waters recede in Pierre, the city fully intends to build the play trail as well as developing the infrastructure of the city. The community is already engaged and excited about the planned trail. An unanticipated byproduct of the flood was the realization by community members of just how important recreation trails and parks are to their sense of overall well-being. 

The same spirit that keeps Pierre working despite the flood was evident even before this event. As the group worked to implement improvements in the local school lunch offerings, they were told ‘no’ by the school district. Instead of giving up, the group went to the PTA and asked for partners to implement a pilot program. Once word got out that some schools had a nutrition program for students, parents began demanding it at their own schools. The Parks and Recreation representative summed up their tenacity like this: “when one door slammed, we just looked for a window”. Whether the issue is better nutrition or improved access to recreation trails, wellness advocates in Pierre are determined to be successful regardless of the obstacle.