CHARLEVOIX – Walking and biking to school is becoming safer for area students, thanks to a grant from the Charlevoix County Community Foundation. The grant will enable the Health Department of Northwest Michigan to facilitate a Safe Routes to School program in the city of Charlevoix.
“We are grateful to the Community Foundation for funding the assessment and planning phases of Safe Routes to School in Charlevoix,” said Jim Harrington, Building Healthy Communities Consultant at the Health Department. “With this funding, we are able to build on work the Charlevoix Public Schools had started, to make walking or biking to school more safe. Once we finalize our Action Plan, we are eligible to apply for major grants to make improvements.”Safe Routes to School is an environmental change strategy recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention to accomplish the following:
Harrington has extensive experience with the Safe Routes to School program. He facilitated the planning framework with more than 60 Michigan school districts while working for the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH). He is currently helping to implement Safe Routes to School at six schools in the Health Department's four-county service area, including Boyne City Elementary School and Boyne City Middle School, with grant funding from MDCH.
The Charlevoix Safe Routes to School Team, led by Charlevoix Middle School principal Travis Garrett, began conducting required assessments last fall. Student and parent surveys about walking and biking to school, and classroom tallies of walking/biking students, have been completed. The team also conducted a biking audit to see what students experience while riding to and from school, noting safety concerns. The overall goal is to increase the number of students walking and biking to school, according to Harrington.
“The city of Charlevoix and the Charlevoix Middle School Safe Routes to School Team have been very supportive of the changes required to make the routes safer and increase student participation,” he said.
Now that data collection is complete, the team is preparing an Action Plan with recommendations to make the environment safer for students walking and biking to school. The Plan will also propose policies to encourage walking and biking, as well as educational initiatives for students, families, staff, and the community. Next, they will hold a Safe Routes to School Community Forum to share assessment results and the proposed Action Plan, and to gather feedback from the community.
Harrington said the Action Plan will enable the Charlevoix Safe Routes to School Team to request a Michigan Department of Transportation infrastructure grant. Requests up to $200,000 can fund improvements such as sidewalks, paths, plan design, bike lanes and educational programs.
The Health Department of Northwest Michigan is mandated by the Michigan Public Health Code to promote wellness, prevent disease, provide quality healthcare, address health problems of vulnerable populations, and protect the environment for the residents and visitors of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties. For additional information about Safe Routes to School, call Harrington at 989-619-4204 or visit http://saferoutesmichigan.org/.