By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — The brilliant sunshine poured its rays across the Newkirk community Saturday morning, April 27. With a mild south breeze blowing through the town, it was a great day to be out – out walking and riding bicycles, out getting healthy. For many, that was exactly what they were doing, as crowds gathered at the Kay County Courthouse for Pathway Day, the inauguration of the Newkirk Fitness Path, a combination walking trail and bike path that is already promoting healthy living in Newkirk.
The Fitness Pathway is the dream of Hannah Cross, and as the crowds began dispersing following the event, she is overwhelmed by the support, something she wasn’t expecting.
“I was very excited. The weather turned out perfectly, and we had a great turnout,” she said. Pathway Day wasn’t an isolated event, but has been several years in the making, dating about two years ago when she saw a fitness path in a Ponca City park. She knew there had to be one in Newkirk, so she began formulating her plan, and presented it to many organizations across the community, which included the City of Newkirk, Kanza Health Center, Newkirk Main Street, Chamber of Commerce and Newkirk Housing Authority.
All the groups she spoke with were enthusiastic about the project.
“I’m excited that we could provide this to the community, and also for the volunteers that showed up,” said City Manager Jane Thomas. “Society now is geared toward health and children, and family functioning, and with this Pathway, we can do that.”
The Oklahoma State University (OSU) Prevention Program and Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) were instrumental in securing a TAP (Transportation Alternatives Program) grant used for the project. Jenny Creech is the TSET Healthy Living coordinator for the OSU Prevention Program in Kay County, and was already working with the City on the grant when Thomas steered her toward Cross’ project.
“I knew that the TAP funding as coming around, so I approached Jane (Thomas) about it, and she was the one who introduced me to Hannah (Cross), and we thought that was a way to spotlight her idea, and get the community moving, and more healthy,” she said.
The community eventually received the TAP grant, a federal grant worth $553,000 funded through the Oklahoma Department of Transportation Commission with an additional $147,000 from the City, on March 5.
A committee began meeting, comprised of interested individuals from across the community, including Newkirk Public Schools (NPS), Newkirk Main Street, Chamber of Commerce and many others.
At one of the meetings, a creative idea was unveiled for the larger community to get involved, through special crosswalks along the Fitness Path, which stretched from Ninth Street to Sixth Street on Maple, east to Main Street and north to Third Street where it moves back west to Lions Park. Each group chose a creative design and submitted it to the City for approval, where they also received the paint and supplies.
“I love the crosswalks, and I think it’s really cool, and it’s a wonderful, artistic side to the community,” Cross said.
Participating groups include the Chamber of Commerce, as well as NPS groups like Culture Club, Stepp-Up, Student Council, National Honor Society and the art classes. The groups chose to participate to do something creative for the community, a way to get more involved.
“It was fun to do, it was enjoyable to work for the City of Newkirk with friends,” said Alexia Smith, who helped paint a cross walk at Third Street and Maple, next to Lions Park, with Culture Club. “I think it’s going to improve what we look like here in Newkirk, what we stand for.”
Painting for Stepp-Up were Laney Richardson and Brielle Horton.
“It was fun just being all together, and putting out our positive message,” Richardson said.
Horton added that “It was great.”
The City was also excited about the event, and a contest was held at the Pathway Day for the Favorite Crosswalk, which went to Student Council.
“I love the creativity that they have, and we’re going to incorporate them into the project,” Thomas said.
All eyes soon began focusing on the upcoming Pathway Day, the public unveiling of the idea.
The turnout was much more than expected, as the parking lot on the north side of the Courthouse was abuzz with activity and crowds. The Newkirk Fire Department set up the event, which started about 9:30 a.m., but kids on bikes were already driving across the parking lot before 9.
The TSET program provided safety information through Creech, as well as the Payne County coordinator Becky Taylor.
“I think this is a great turnout. I am very happy with how many people came out,” Creech said. Newkirk Main Street and Leaming Construction provided hot dogs for lunch and the Kay County 4-H program was available, offering healthy living tips through tasteful smoothies, which were blended on a bicycle blender, courtesy of the program, which allowed kids to pedal to operate the blender.
“It is a bicycle set up with a blender attached, and we fill it with ingredients, and when they pedal, it makes the blender go,” said OSU Kay County Extension Director Brenda Medlock.
Smoothie recipes were provided, and ingredients included berries, bananas and even spinach. The smoothies proved to be quite popular.
“We’ve been busy. I’m almost out of ingredients,” Medlock said, and it was only partway through the event.
Other events that made it a fun morning included a bicycle decorating contest, sponsored by First Presbyterian Church, and an appearance by OSU’s Pistol Pete.
Out of-town participants were also on-site to help the kids, including Spoke-N-Things bicycle shop and the Arkansas City chapter of Optimist International, a service organization dedicated to supporting the youth of the world. Activities include college scholarships, fishing derbies and election education during presidential elections. Bike safety is also a concept, as they checked the bikes for safety, and even had an obstacle course for learning safety.
“We were checking the bicycles for safety, and we taught them about the importance of signaling,” said member Andrew Lawson. “The lines were to help them ride straight, and the cones were for maneuvers.”
As with the Newkirk organizations, it was Cross who was instrumental in getting the group to Newkirk.
“I wish we had more kids like Hannah in Arkansas City. She came to the meeting and covered everything,” Lawson said. “We need more kids like that, to do something in the community.”
By 10:30, the parking lot was largely deserted, as supporters hit the streets to experience the pathway in-person, and see the creative crosswalks. Twelve passport stations were set up all along the paths by Newkirk churches and businesses/ Youth were encouraged top visit each passport station and get it stamped. Once they had visited the stated, they began trickling back in by 11 a.m., in time for lunch at 11:30.
Many of those participating were moved by the project, including youth riding their bikes.
“It’s good, it helps Newkirk,” said Kalli Kirkpatrick, who although lives in Blackwell, pledges to ride it whenever she comes to Newkirk. “I like it, I think it’s safer.”
Even those who didn’t participate in the initial walk were impressed.
“I think it’s an amazing opportunity for Newkirk. We need safe paths to walk on,” said Dawn Mills. “Walking is something people can do at any age.”
The next phase is the new sidewalks along the route, as well as the Safe Routes to School plan, which is a walking path on Ninth Street from Maple to Academy, then south to NPS. The City of Newkirk will be applying for a TAP grant in the fall for the phase.
“We just selected the engineer (April 22), so once he gets the plans drawn up, we can put it up for bidding,” Cross said. “The next step is putting in the Safe Routes to School which will give the kids a safe route to school. We’re going to apply for the grant in fall and hopefully we can start it in a few years.”
Why all this effort for a project that will take several years and grants to complete? It is all about the safety and health of the community, something Cross takes seriously.
“This is to get more people out and more people (living healthy),” she said. “I hope more people will get out and exercise, and get healthy and I hope more people get out on Main Street.”