Rapid City, South Dakota — known as the gateway to Mt. Rushmore — is on a winning streak. In 2018, they expanded community garden programming, encouraged kids to get physically active and ensured there were safe sidewalks at new businesses. The following year, they kept up their momentum by making more streets and sidewalks walkable, installing bike racks and repair stations, and implementing walking school buses that encouraged kids to walk to school.
Then, in 2020, Rapid City repurposed an old and unused golf course into a new disc golf course with a walking path and community gardens; started on-site gardens at local daycares to help local children form healthy eating habits; and installed outdoor fitness equipment at a local park.
These community improvement efforts led to Rapid City winning the Healthy HometownSM Powered by Wellmark Community Award — and $5,000 for community improvement projects — for the third year in a row. Learn more about what Rapid City has accomplished this year, and what’s next for their community.
Reviving unused green space
When the Black Hills Disc Golf Club approached the Rapid City Parks and Recreation Department about repurposing an abandoned, golf course into the city’s third disc golf course, the city had no objections. LaCroix Links, located in a heavily residential area in the southern part of Rapid City, had been unused since January 2018, though the department had maintained it to prevent it from becoming overgrown.
In addition to the disc golf course, the space got a bit of a face lift with some new walking and biking paths, as well as a community garden with 38 beds. “There are five apartment complexes within a half mile of the space,” Prehn says. “Apartment residents don’t often have the space for growing food, and the garden didn’t cut into the disc golf space — it just made a lot of sense to have it there.”
The garden was so popular that all 38 beds were rented in a matter of two weeks. And, because of the financial impacts of COVID-19, the city waived the reservation fees for the first year, which eliminated a barrier for low-income applications.
Growing and learning
About 30 percent of residents in Pennington County, where Rapid City is located, live in what’s known as a food desert, which means a high percentage of residents live more than 10 miles from a grocery store. To help increase access to healthy foods and provide a hands-on learning environment for young children, Live Well Black Hills External Site created a program called Little Sprouts to help childcare centers start and maintain on-site gardens.
“Ultimately, the goal is to have children engage more in food growing, learning where their food comes from and the importance of including fruit and vegetables in their diet,” says Christina Prehn, community engagement associate at the Rapid City YMCA and coordinator at Live Well Black Hills. “Honing those healthy eating behaviors at a young age happens by having that ownership of growing their own food, eating it, and sharing it with their parents.”
In the program’s inaugural year, three childcare centers in Rapid City established or enhanced gardening programs that gave children an opportunity to gain experience with growing their own food. To get started, each center received $500 in addition to a consultation with a Master Gardener about their garden plans. More than 300 children at the three centers harvested just over 30 pounds of food, including potatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, tomatoes, herbs, and lettuce.
Live Well Black Hills has plans to continue the program and will expand it to four additional childcare centers in 2021. Centers that participated in 2020 will continue to receive support, resources and free seeds in the second year of the program.
Free fitness for all
Does the lack of access to fitness equipment keep you from getting or staying physically active? For Rapid City residents, this isn’t an issue thanks to brand-new outdoor fitness equipment at Roosevelt Park near the city’s downtown area. “Roosevelt Park is a really expansive park with lots of recreational opportunities,” Prehn says. “Installing equipment near the swim center and ice arena made a lot of sense. It just gives people another fitness opportunity.” The free exercise equipment, which is weatherproofed and open year-round, can be adapted to meet a wide range of fitness levels and abilities.
“The fitness equipment is designed to focus on three different areas: core, lower body, and light stretching,” Prehn says. “There are signs on the equipment showing the different ways to use it, which is important. If you were to walk up to the equipment and it didn’t have that it might be kind of daunting.”
To complement the fitness park, the Parks and Recreation department will hold several fitness classes on the equipment when it’s safe to gather in larger groups, adding a community socialization element to the project.
Up next for Rapid City
It’s clear by now that Rapid City has no intent of slowing down when it comes to community improvement work. “We plan to use last year's and this year's award money together to create a larger impact and support more than just one or two projects,” says Prehn.
She adds that Rapid City is seeing tremendous growth and people want to live somewhere with these kinds of amenities. “People want to get outside and be active here,” Prehn says. “And to do that, they need changes to the built environment to help them live healthier lives.”
Motivated by Rapid City’s success?
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