Bob Douglas resembles neither Lewis nor Clark, but he's a trailblazer nonetheless.
Douglas, an inventory specialist at Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services, was one of about a dozen volunteers last fall who helped explore and develop a system of walker-friendly trails on campus.
Michele Guerra, director of the Wellness Center
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
"It sounded simple enough - to find reasonable paths to walk, but they really wanted a lot of information," Douglas said last month, moments before participating in a lunch-hour walk sponsored by the UI Wellness Center covering one of the paths he evaluated.
Douglas enlisted the help of friend Bob McGrath, a software programmer with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, and the two starting scouting acceptable routes near the Bardeen Quad.
Of course, they had advantages Lewis and Clark never did - like mowed grass and wide sidewalks, not to mention a specialized trail-analysis kit developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and adapted for the Urbana campus.
"The kit had a pedometer and a variety of tools to help identify the best paths," Douglas said. "We looked at lighting, whether there were trash cans or benches along the route, accessibility and a lot of other issues."
Other walking-path checklist items include aesthetics, pedestrian dangers and availability of shade. The idea was to produce a route that any walker of any skill level could navigate.
"It's kind of a low-tech, organic process," Michele Guerra, the director of the Wellness Center, said of the trail-identification and ranking process. "We are using this process in large part because it involves the people who know the campus best - employees and students who live, work and study in the areas they are auditing."
The Wellness Center is sponsoring the Weekly Wellness Walks at several locations Monday through Wednesday during the lunch hour. Guerra said identifying the pathways is the starting point for a more-vigorous, strategically planned "lifestyle physical activity" initiative.
To complete the path-identifying audits, the campus was divided into 12 quadrants, and volunteers were asked to identify the most welcoming portions of the paths. Each path received a score based on the CDC criteria.
"This is to help employees find a way to fit physical activity into their days," Guerra said. "A lot of people encounter barriers that make finding time to exercise difficult - really, that's the majority of people."
The new courses are of "moderate intensity" and reflect a walking rate of about 15 to 20 minutes per mile. Each Weekly Wellness Walk will have a Wellness Center staff member along for assistance.
"We're trying to accommodate people who walk a little faster and those who walk a little slower," she said. "We want everyone to walk at the pace that works for them."
Taylor Rafool, a Wellness Center intern, said the number of walkers has been rising with the temperatures.
"People have been showing up right on the dot," he said. "We've had pretty good (weather) conditions and it seems like they're really eager."
Guerra said there are plans to re-assess the paths over time, using the additional information to expand the walker program and to create online maps.
"We're in the process of mapping that now," Guerra said.
There also are plans for an online toolkit, which will include maps and features of the audited paths (such as how long it will take and how many steps are taken), as well as weekly walking tips. Information also will include instructions on how to use a pedometer, stretching techniques, calculating a comfortable pace and how to chart your own progress.
"It's a long-term process," Guerra said. "We're committed to keep it going and to keep doing it. We're using walking as the first, ground floor."
More audits of walking paths will be conducted this summer. Interested volunteers should contact Michele Guerra, email@example.com.