In the Town of Okotoks, council and administration work closely together to encourage a healthy active lifestyle for residents and visitors alike.
“I give kudos to council. Council is extremely supportive of promoting healthy options for our community members, and they continue to support what we do,” says Okotoks community programs and events manager, Janette Messer.
A Communities ChooseWell 2017 Developing Healthy Policies Award winner, Okotoks is focused on improving ‘active transportation’ opportunities for walking and cycling, creating a healthier, more active culture in this community of nearly 29,000 south of Calgary. Under the town’s active transportation strategy, adopted by council in 2015, Okotoks has made active transportation one of its priorities.
Okotoks boasts more than 80 kms of pathways throughout the townsite and in the Sheep River valley. To increase pathway system accessibility, the town has committed to removing snow from the pathway system not only during the week, but also on weekends, to reduce barriers and encourage more people to head outside for fresh air and physical activity.
The town has also implemented its active transportation strategy in two new subdivision developments, which were designed in consultation with the developers to increase the amount of green and naturalized spaces, and include walkable, accessible, barrier-free neighborhoods with good lighting.
Council, which has recognized the importance of safe and caring communities, provides support for the Okotoks Neighborhood Connector Program, which was established to connect Okotoks residents with their neighbors. “Studies have shown that connected neighborhoods are healthier neighborhoods,” Messer says, noting that more social neighborhoods are safer, more caring, healthier and more fun- because as people get to know each other, they’re more likely to host neighborhood gatherings such as street parties, block parties, skating parties and other events. “It’s supporting community connections. It’s really maintaining that small town feel.”
In five years’ time, if all goes well, Messer think Okotoks will be healthier and even more connected.
The Town of Okotoks continues to be committed to providing a wide range of opportunities to citizens, such as organized programs and access to recreational facilities, at no charge or for a nominal fee. It’s important to provide residents with access to quality programs, and “ensure accessibility to programs, so that paying for health is not a barrier to participating,” Messer says.
There are also plenty of free and low cost activities to enjoy during special events and celebrations throughout the year, such as Canada Day and Family Day, among many others.
The town wants people of all ages to be active, from people ages 55-plus, to students. To this end, Okotoks provides a ‘Grade 5 Gets Active’ recreation centre pass for all Grade 5 students, with free drop-in activities such as swimming, skating and gym time. The town offers the same type of pass for Grade 8 students, ‘Active 8s.’
Okotoks town council is committed to providing top-class facilities and access to affordable and free options on an ongoing basis. At Pason Centennial Arena, for example, the town has just completed an expansion to provide additional opportunities for ice time, with the addition of a second NHL sized ice as well as a leisure ice.
Healthy eating is an important part of a healthy community, and community services staff have been working with the recreation centre concession operator to increase healthy food and drink options at the Okotoks Recreation Centre and Pason Centennial Arena.