First Posted: 6/26/2009
Once again, Mount Airy has been designated a FIT community by a state agency, but not at the level local officials might have desired.
This city is among seven municipalities or counties in North Carolina to receive the FIT Community designation by the state Wellness and Trust Fund. The selections were announced Thursday.
The statewide program recognizes efforts by communities to promote physical activity, healthy eating and tobacco-free lifestyles through programs, policies and environmental changes at the school and community levels.
Mount Airy was one of six communities receiving the bronze-level FIT community designation, along with Asheville, Goldsboro, Wilmington, Gaston County and Oak Island.
The town of Cramerton was awarded at the silver level; no localities were chosen for the two highest distinctions, gold and platinum.
Mount Airys bronze designation indicates that it has demonstrated efforts to make healthy lifestyles more accessible in the community. But gaps remain that suggest there is ample potential for further strengthening of local resources, according to Wellness and Trust Fund officials.
In 2006, Mount Airy was one of only eight localities to achieve FIT community status for a period of three years.
The platinum, gold and other tier designations were added for the 2009 consideration. Catrina Alexander, Mount Airys parks and recreation director, applied for the designation along with Celena Watson of the Surry County Health and Nutrition Center.
In addition to city government and the health department, Mount Airy City Schools, the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, Northern Hospital of Surry County and Advanced Electronic Systems were part of the process. Their involvement reflects the range of partnerships needed to be a FIT community.
Alexander said local representatives would have preferred to be recognized at a higher level, but that the bronze designation mainly is reflective of the limited resources of a smaller community. If the same tiers had been in place in 2006, Mount Airy likely would have scored the same, she said.
Im still really proud that we made it, Alexander said of achieving FIT community status. And its a huge feather in the cap of small towns in America that we could achieve something like this with our size and the resources weve got.
Alexander said it generally speaks well of the quality of life Mount Airy offers, which can aid economic development and other gains.
On The Right Track
The parks and recreation official believes that while more work is needed, the recent honor shows this community is on the right track toward fitness.
Alexander added that an eventual goal of local efforts is not only to springboard to a higher designation, but to qualify for grants that will enhance local efforts even more. This week, a total of $555,000 in grant funding was awarded to selected towns, counties and schools with demonstrated capacity to implement projects that promote healthful changes.
Among the areas in need of improvement locally are healthier eating choices among restaurants, which Alexander said could be achieved with grant funding in the future, and the implementation of projects in schools in which students learn to raise gardens.
Another deficiency, a relatively small number of smoke-free restaurants in this area, soon will correct itself due to the state Legislature recently voting to ban lighting up in all restaurants and bars.
Alexander also mentioned another facet relating to resources available for biking and walking. While many sidewalk improvements have occurred, she said, there is a need to make biking and walking more compatible, as transportation alternatives as well as exercise.
The Mount Airy Parks and Recreation Commission earlier this year cited a desire for developing more bike paths or trails through the city that would allow residents to ride and walk to work or other destinations.
Expanding partnerships, a priority for the N.C. Wellness and Trust Fund, also is being pursued locally, according to Alexander. One such move should occur when the new H.B. Rowe Environmental Park is completed along the Ararat River. That will allow additional partnering between schools and such groups as the local Cooperative Extension Service and Master Gardeners, she said.
I really think in the long run its going to benefit us more, the parks and recreation director said of the bronze designation and the opportunities it presents.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.