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Bikes, food focus of city grant

A cyclist traveling on Fox Farm Road follows Worthington's biking and walking trail Monday afternoon. A $25,000 grant will go, in part, to improvements along the trail. (Ryan McGaughey/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- Start your bicycles and ready your green thumbs, Worthingtonians.

The community of Worthington is the beneficiary of a $25,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Health, awarded through the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP). The purpose of the grant is to help make Worthington a healthier and better place to live, Worthington Area YMCA Health and Fitness Director Ryan Seykora said Monday.

"Southwest SHIP had approached the YMCA and asked us to be a facilitator of the grant, Seykora explained. "Andy Johnson and I brainstormed people that we thought would be interested in being a part of the process, and sent out invitations. Most people were interested, and a Worthington SHIP committee was formed."

The grant is broken down into two areas -- Active Transportation and Healthy Food Environment. The SHIP committee conducted a needs assessment to determine what Worthington was lacking within the two parts of the grant, and then developed a plan that includes several quality-of-life upgrades.

"In Active Transportation, we thought that creating a bike trail map would be a good way to create awareness about the large trail network that we have in Worthington," Seykora said. "It was one of the biggest things we looked at."

The map, which is included in today's Daily Globe, is only one aspect of the improvements. "We looked at trail signs and decided to have eight trail signs located at different points along the trails so people can see where they are," Seykora said. "Also, we purchased several new bike racks that will be placed throughout the community where we thought people would utilize them the most."

The committee, comprised of community residents, has been working for more than a year on the project, Seykora stressed, and further volunteers have done a lot of important, behind-the-scenes work to make things happen.

"We really wanted to make it a community effort," Seykora said.

The City of Worthington also has been involved with the project.

"One of the first things we did was to get a 'Complete Streets' policy passed by the City Council," Seykora said.

This policy, unfortunately for drivers, isn't meant to make Worthington's streets perfect and completely free of potholes, but will assist those using active forms of transportation.

"We adopted the Complete Streets policy and will create a master plan moving forward," Worthington City Administrator Craig Clark said. "In the broadest sense, it promotes a less car-centric focus on transportation systems and hopes to change perspectives. The city was a participant in the committee and a beneficiary of the funds, and we will install the racks and trail signage to encourage use, awareness and increase accessibility."

Clark sees the signs and racks as an important part of the SHIP program.

"They are a nice enhancement for the trail and biking community and are a good way to encourage healthier living, which is what the program is all about," Clark added.

The policy could potentially bring about more sidewalks and pedestrian safety features, as well as enhanced bike amenities and safety.

And where do those with green thumbs get to assist?

"The second area is the Healthy Food Environment," Seykora said. "We are making a new raised-bed community garden between the Center for Active Living (CAL) and the street.

The produce grown won't be sold to grocery stores, either.

"Everything produced will be donated to local food shelves or utilized at the CAL and YMCA," Seykora said. As fresh fruits and vegetables can be expensive in stores and scarce at food shelves, "this will help those who use food shelves be healthier as well."

The public can expect the signs and bike racks to appear in late summer to early fall, with the new county-led bike trail also hopefully being completed during that time.

For now, Seykora and the SHIP committee are thankful for the present while looking toward the future.

"Pipestone, Marshall and Luverne have all already utilized SHIP grants in the past, and now it is Worthington's turn," he said. "There is a possibility that we will be offered more SHIP money, and if we get it, we'll continue to develop a master plan for trails and active transportation, do another needs assessment, and improve on our improvements."

The $25,000 has been spent, and Seykora said, "We will build off of what we have done and have laid the groundwork to make Worthington a healthier and safer place to live."