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Plan promotes active living as a way of life

Matthew Dyrdahl, physical planner with Headwaters Regional Development Commission, talks about the completed plan for Active Living in the Bemidji Area during an open house hosted by the HRDC Wednesday night at the Hampton Inn & Suites. Pioneer Photo/Laurie Swenson

Get out your walking shoes and bicycles.

The Headwaters Regional Development Commission presented the completed plan for Active Living in the Bemidji Area at an open house Wednesday night at the Hampton Inn & Suites.

"Active living is a way of life that incorporates physical activity into daily life," said Matthew Dyrdahl, physical planner with the HRDC, during a presentation on the plan.

Bemidji is one of eight Minnesota communities selected to receive Active Living Minnesota funding through Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. A contract was awarded to Bemidji Wellness Education for Long Life, which subcontracted HRDC to complete the planning process.

The Active Living Partnership is working toward improving overall health and safety of Bemidji-area residents.

"Each of the communities, they're all pursuing this work in different ways, but the whole basic idea is making physical activity an easy choice, a healthy choice," said Jill Chamberlain of BCBS.

"We need to reach (the) 75 percent of the people that are insufficiently active or totally sedentary," Chamberlain said. "We need to take a look at our physical environment and how we can make walking and bicycling easier."

Dyrdahl spoke about the "8/80 rule," encouraging people to think of an 8-year-old and an 80-year-old and consider where they would be comfortable with them bicycling or walking. He showed various locations in Bemidji, some of which appeared safe for children and elderly, and others that did not.

Bemidji has both assets and barriers for active living, he said, praising the construction of the bike trail around Lake Bemidji and the existing walkways in the downtown area.

But in some parts of the city, the biggest barrier to walking and biking is the lack of safe and convenient connections, particularly along Paul Bunyan Drive, whose busiest section is on the west end.

Fourth Street Northwest has a well-marked crosswalk at Paul Bunyan Drive, but getting across is "a little bit like Frogger," Dyrdahl said, showing a screenshot of the video game in which the player tries to maneuver a frog across several lanes of traffic.

As Paul Bunyan Drive leaves the downtown area, there are sidewalks but no crosswalks to connect to the businesses in the center of the divided roadway, he said. "There are no safe crossings on either side."

Walking and biking to school is relatively safe in some areas, but Dyrdahl outlined drawbacks at other locations.

He referred to a "five-P" approach to active living -- planning, policy change, physical projects, promotion and programs.

Fitness sampler

Programs for fitness are already getting started.

Samantha Parker, special events coordinator for the Bemidji Parks and Recreation Department since June, spoke about two upcoming events, the Active Living Health Carnival Saturday at the waterfront and the Passport for Fitness collection of classes from Sept. 21 through Dec. 19.

Parker is also a Pilates instructor and a personal trainer.

The carnival, open to all ages, will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will include typical carnival games, Nintendo Wii activities, aerobics, geocaching, a trivia trail walk and a 12:30 p.m. bike parade, also for all ages (helmet required). Inflatable activities will be available with purchase of a wristband.

Demonstrations of the Passport for Fitness classes will be held during the carnival.

"I'm really excited about this," Parker said about the Passport classes. "I can't wait."

The Passport for Fitness program incorporates a variety of existing classes at various health and fitness venues in Bemidji so participants can try any or all of the classes. Twenty-three separate activities are offered, at times that don't conflict with one another.

"You can go to every single class," Parker said.

Participants purchase a "passport" for $20 that will be stamped after each class. The cost of each class, if added together, would exceed $200.

Classes are hosted by Health Quest Studio, Dionne's Om Yoga Studio, Gillett Recreation and Fitness Center at Bemidji State University, Bemidji School of Tae Kwan Do, First City Dance Studio and the Bemidji Area Tennis Association. Participants can try yoga, muscle toning, dancing, jump roping, kettleball, rock climbing, self-defense, kick boxing and a variety of other activities.

The passports can be purchased at the Health Carnival or at the Public Works Building, 1351 5th Street N.W.

For details, contact Parker at 333-1857 or

Prior to the Health Carnival Saturday, Evergreen House will host the 5k Walk/Run for Suicide Prevention and Awareness. Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m. with the run starting at 9:30 a.m. The entry fee is $15. For details, call 751-4332.

Also promoted during the open house was Bike or Walk to School Day, Oct. 7.

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