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Small community, big changes

A Healthy HometownSM Powered by Wellmark success story

As you’re heading into the historic downtown of Manning, Iowa, a community of 1,500 residents nestled in Carroll County, you can’t miss the vibrant red, white and green Coca-Cola® mural on the south side of Deb’s Corner Café on 4th Street. With a beautiful backdrop to welcome residents and visitors, the city of Manning has been hard at work tackling projects that will have life-long benefits, increasing physical activity and encouraging healthy behaviors. The following changes to Manning's built environment will be sustainable for many years to come:

  • Building trail connections and an underpass below Highway 141
  • Making it much safer for kids to cross the street to access the local recreation center.
  • Substantially increasing access to drinking water throughout the community

These projects, along with other improvements, led to Manning receiving the 2020 Healthy HometownSM Powered by Wellmark Community Award in February. Learn more about how the community of Manning works together to get things done — and what’s in store for the future.

Increasing opportunities to be active

Less than a decade ago, Manning had very few opportunities for residents to be active. “Obesity is a major concern within the community, and we want to combat that by getting residents to move more,” says Dawn Meyer, Manning's city administrator. “Offering safe transportation that doesn’t necessarily rely on a car to get from point A to point B is one of our major goals.”

In 2012, the city adopted a master trails plan, and started building a few years later. “Our parks and recreation department works to provide affordable and no-cost opportunities to stay active,” Meyer says. “It’s important that what we offer includes activities people can do to get active and enjoy at no or minimal cost.”

Manning has mapped out what a 15-, 30- and 45-minute walk might look like through the community using the trail system and sidewalks, and placed that signage at city hall, parks, and the campground on the edge of town. In October 2018, the city installed an underpass below Highway 141 that provides a safe way for Manning residents to get from downtown to residential areas further south. The underpass is especially important for those who may struggle with traditional highway crossings, like children, the elderly, and people with visual impairments or mobility issues. The goal is to add a new trail segment each year. “If we’re not building, we’re fundraising for what our next piece is,” Meyer says.

Next up, the city plans to add benches along existing trails. “Benches make the trail system even more appealing to people at all different fitness levels — not just the people who can go a mile or two without stopping,” says Meyer. In addition to making improvements to its trail system, Manning recently worked to make a key intersection in town safer for residents — especially younger ones.

Making it safer to stay active

On average, 3,500 people drive through Manning on Highway 141 every day. The recreation center sits at the corner of Highway 141 and Center Street but has poor line-of-sight on both sides caused by slight hills. The city decided to install rapid-flashing pedestrian crossing lights to the intersection, making it much safer for residents to walk to and from the recreation center. “We put the poles up as tall as the Department of Transportation would allow and then put lights on top of them,” Meyer says. “You can’t see the sign or crosswalk, but you can see the flashing lights before you crest the hill.” The addition of the new crossing lights has made parents feel more comfortable about letting their children go to the recreation center by themselves.

In addition to making it easier for Manning residents to participate in physical activities, it was important to the community to increase drinking water access to build healthy habits in its youngest residents.

Encouraging water consumption

Think about how much water you have access to on a normal day. Are there drinking fountains at school or work? Do vending machines and convenience stores help make the healthy choice the easy choice? Up until recently, this wasn’t the case for Manning residents. “A lot of times, the only way to get water was if you went to the gas station to grab a bottle, and then you’re tempted by a lot of other, less healthy options,” says Meyer.

In 2019, Manning collaborated with various partners in the community to install seven water bottle filling stations at key locations around the city to increase water access. “Making water easily accessible at the daycare, in the school lunchroom, at the preschool, along the trails and at the baseball diamond was important,” Meyer says. “We really looked at key demographics and how to help those younger audiences make healthy habits from the get-go.” To encourage residents to drink more water, the city gives out reusable water bottles at events with a printed message inside that reads ‘busted for being healthy.’ City employees also get in on the fun by stopping kids for making healthy choices and giving them a water bottle. “It’s fun to be on the 'busting' side of it too,” Meyer says, laughing.

More opportunities for Manning

Many of Manning’s future projects are geared toward younger residents as well. These include improving ways for kids to walk or bike to school, implementing a new after school program and adding a nature play area to Trestle Park that requires more imagination than a traditional playground.

One of the unique qualities about Manning is that while the overall age of residents is higher than most towns, it’s recently seen an influx of people under 35. “That’s a population we’ve been good at re-attracting or attracting for the first time,” Meyer says. “I think it’s because we’re so involved, and people see that our community isn't dying. We have trails, a rec center, places to eat, great childcare, amazing schools, and really good opportunities to be involved in the community.”

Healthy Hometown Powered by Wellmark

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