Active Recreation in NH: Healthy People Healthy Places

An article from the "In the Spotlight" section, January issue of the NHPHA e-Newsletter

Active Recreation in NH: Healthy People Healthy Places begins to make its mark

Beth Gustafson Wheeler, MS
Director of Community Health
Foundation for Healthy Communities

HEAL NH PIC6Since the fall of 2014, HEAL NH has been the lead organization responsible for forwarding the goals of the 2014-2019 NH Healthy People Healthy
Places (HPHP) Plan.  While the plan boasts four hearty objectives in the areas of active transportation, active recreation, healthy food access and healthy food promotion, today we will highlight one in particular that has been moving the ball forward:  Active recreation. 

The active recreation objective states “All NH communities have access to indoor and outdoor recreation facilities within a reasonable distance.”  While lofty in its presentation, the folks behind the curtain responsible for accomplishing it are used to striving towards such ambitions…one step at a time.

In 2014, HEAL NH formed the Active Recreation Workgroup pulling together a variety of partners across NH dedicated to increasing access to places to play and recreate for NH residents.  A list of them can be found below, and include professionals who have the passion and the networks to push the needle in the right direction.  In fact, they are already making great strides.**

HEAL NH PIC3The workgroup is focused on three main strategies as outlined in the HPHP Plan:

1.     Increase access to public and community facilities for physical activity through     coordinated statewide education, outreach, and advocacy for Joint Use Agreements.

2.     Increase public and private investment to create and improve access to healthy and safe parks, playgrounds, open spaces, and other places for community recreation.

3.     Increase use of parks, playgrounds, open space and other places for community recreation.

All three of these strategies, and most of those within the new Healthy People Healthy Places Plan, prioritize this work for NH’s highest need communities. 

What are the accomplishments to date?

1.     Joint Use Agreement resource page:  The NH Recreation and Parks Association posted a list of Joint Use Agreement resources for communities and organizations who are interested in taking advantage of sharing use of facilities to increase access to recreational opportunities.  At the 2014 HEAL Conference, the active recreation workgroup held a workshop outlining the advantages of JUA’s as well as a “step by step” process for creating one in your community.

2.     Active Recreation Inventory:  The workgroup has completed Phase 1 of its Active Recreation Inventory.  The purpose of the inventory is to HEAL NH PIC2gather the amount, type, and location of recreation spaces and facilities in 10 of NH’s high need communities. Included in the data are the amenities and features offered at each park as well as maps showing neighborhood proximity.  The results are being presented in a poster session this month at the Active Living Research Annual Conference and will be used to write a preliminary report this winter regarding the state of recreation access in NH’s high need communities.  

3.     The next step for the workgroup is to develop an advocacy campaign that makes the case for increased funding for recreation in high need communities across NH.  We are also working together to plan further research using a community based participatory model.  Our intention is to acquire a deeper understanding of the barriers to active recreation in NH’s highest need communities, as well as the opportunities for improving access. 

This work has been inspired and informed by the previous work of two HEAL community grantees:  the cities of Laconia and Berlin.  Wyatt Park in Laconia is a great example of how a neighborhood can champion a park renovation to transform a debilitated, run down park into a social, family gathering place.  Berlin, another example, bulldozed abandoned, dilapidated buildings and created a neighborhood park and community garden in a neighborhood that lacked access to a place for families to play and socialize.  You can find their case studies on the community page of the HEAL NH website.

HEAL NH PIC4Through the work of the Active Recreation Workgroup, we can form a better picture of recreation in NH and use this new understanding to advocate for further funding to provide easier and safer access to recreational opportunities in NH communities. 

For more information on the Active Recreation Workgroup and our project, please visit the Active Recreation page on the HEAL website at

** Members of the HPHP Active Recreation Workgroup include:

Robert Barcelona, Recreation Management and Policy, UNH Dept. of Health and Human Services; Katie Bush, Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health Services; Paul Coats, City of Lebanon Department of Recreation and Parks; Cindy Heath, GP RED; Kerry Horne, NH Recreation and Parks Association and HealthTrust; Mike Loomis, Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Health; Barbara McCahan, Center for Active Living and Healthy Communities, Plymouth State University; Sandy Olney, Adaptive Sports Partners of the North Country; Chris Thayer, Appalachian Mountain Club; and Beth Gustafson Wheeler, HEAL NH.

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