How Bikes Contribute to a Culture of Health

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This week, Allen County won America’s highest health advocacy honor, the “Culture of Health” prize from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), for our efforts to improve health in our community.

A big part of that is bikes!

Active transportation options for a Culture of Health

In detailing the factors that led to the award, RWJF specifically mentioned the Southwind Rail Trail and the expanding Allen County Trail network:

Active Transportation for Healthier Lives

Starting from the town of Humboldt, in Allen County, Kansas, bike riders of all ages set out every Tuesday evening for a roundtrip ride to Iola, 6.5 miles away. The new Southwind Rail Trail, built by volunteers as part of an expanding network of biking and walking trails in the county, follows the former Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway line. Biking has become so popular in Allen County that Velo+, a bicycle store from Kansas City 100 miles to the north, opened a new shop in Iola.

RWJF also discusses the development of the Lehigh Portland Trails:

Thrive Allen County pushes the message that residents must work with what they have. That’s why it rallied residents to carve a network of biking and hiking trails among 300 underutilized acres around the abandoned Lehigh Portland Cement Plant and quarry. Volunteers with chainsaws cleared 10 miles of paths through dense woods, a chore that took two years to complete.

Everyone chipped in. When the trail-blazers needed a bridge to span a gully, the county government offered an old one. A house mover was hired to move it to the trail. Another business donated old conveyer belts to use as decking.

At first, naysayers thought the trails were a waste of time and money. Now that they see how popular they are, the question is how to add more. “That’s a big paradigm shift,” Toland says. “It shows that we have made it over a huge hurdle as a community from the ‘whether’ to the ‘how’.”

Elsewhere, the Bike Prairie Spirit web site talks about How the Prairie Spirit Trail Contributes to a Culture of Health:

Ten years ago, Allen County had no trails. Today, it boasts a greater variety of trail miles per capita than anywhere in Kansas — more than twenty miles of trails, with more being added each year. The trail network has increased resident’s access to recreational opportunities and to nature, diversified the transportation options, and aided in recruiting and retaining businesses, while offering the potential for increased tourism. Allen County has a vision of being the healthiest rural county in Kansas, and trails are a critial element of making that a reality.

And over at Kansas Cyclist, they talk about the process of Building a Rural Bicycle-Friendly Community in Allen County Kansas:

Allen County Kansas has won one of the nation’s highest honors, the 2017 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health prize. Building a bicycle-friendly community in a small rural area was a big part of that story. Allen County’s work on bicycling, trails, and active transportation was a big part of earning this recognition, and will remain a big part of our strategy going forward. Thrive’s vision of Allen County as the healthiest rural county in Kansas depends on it.

The Kansas Cyclist article details all the bike-friendly progress in just the last four years:

  • The opening of the Southwind Rail Trail
  • Sharrows on Allen County streets
  • The construction of the Missouri Pacific Recreational Trail
  • Allen County’s success in the National Bike Challenge
  • The Launch of Bike Allen County
  • The construction of the Lehigh Portland Trails
  • The Portland Alley Pedalfest
  • Regular weekly social rides
  • Passage of a Complete Streets policy in Iola
  • The Velo+ bike shop coming to Iola
  • Lauch of the Allen County Bike Share program

For one small rural county, that’s a whole lot of activity in a very short time!

Remaking Our Image and Identity

It’s gotten to the point where it’s hard to imagine Allen County without trails, without people riding bikes for recreation and transportation. It’s become both part of our self-identity, and a part of how people around the state (and now the nation) think about Allen County Kansas.

Allen County Bikes: It’s what we do!

Learn more about the Culture of Health award from Thrive Allen County:

Also, be sure to check out this video from RWJF:

You’re sure to see some familiar places and faces!

Learning about bicycles