JOHN DAVIES: Enough talk; let’s walk our national park

2012-12-09T00:00:00Z 2013-01-08T16:33:05Z JOHN DAVIES: Enough talk; let’s walk our national parkBy John Davies
December 09, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Those of us who have been around a while think we know our national park.

Do we?

It’s likely we know that Northwest Indiana has 15 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. But do we know that Indiana has more coastline in a national park than any other state along any coast in the country?

We also have heard that we have lots of species in our park. But do we know that our national park has 25 species of orchids, many more than Hawaii (three species)?

But here’s something you probably do not know and really should know, especially as we think about resolutions for the New Year. In fact, consider this my holiday gift to you.

Our national park is the first to launch a new national initiative called “The Park Prescription” program. It’s part of a national project called Healthy Parks Healthy People.

So I visited with park Superintendent Costa Dillon to learn how our park became the first of 398 national parks to achieve this distinction.

Because of this achievement, our national park team was inducted into The Society of Innovators this past October. 

Dillon had been working on this idea for about a year to involve the park and its 45 miles of trails to improve the health of the region. Then he heard about a new initiative that had started in Australia and New Zealand.

At a meeting in Washington, D.C., he talked with a colleague about this initiative in which doctors write prescriptions to encourage patients to walk park trails. He embraced this idea that has such positive results for those who follow the doctor’s orders.

Essentially, health care professionals work with the park to identify trails and activities that are appropriate for patient care. Then physicians write a prescription that is tailored for the patient's needs. Following that prescription, patients will walk one of the trails to improve their health and wellness.

Today, the park has five trails certified by health professionals: Hobart Prairie Grove Trail, Calumet Dune Trail, Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk, Great Marsh Trail and the Bailly/Chellberg Trail. Now there are plans to expand this to Valparaiso city parks.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is in partnership with Porter Health System to provide this community outreach. So I contacted Patrick D. Fleming, MD, at the Westchester Medical Center. He thinks this initiative is an antidote to a sedentary lifestyle, and he cited at least one example of a husband and wife team given a prescription to walk one of the trails. Their health has improved dramatically.

But he also acknowledged that he needs to encourage more people and patients to use these trails. I agree.

So I’m going to walk the Great Marsh Trail at noon on Jan. 12. If you are interested, let me know at

Enough talk about improving health; let’s walk!

John Davies is managing director of The Society of Innovators of Northwest Indiana, launched by Ivy Tech Community College Northwest. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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