Markell visits Sussex to tout fall Sussex 'Outdoors' Summit

By Tony E. Windsor

State and county dignitaries were on hand in Georgetown last week to announce plans for a strategic health initiative that puts the Sussex County landscape at center stage. Gov. Jack Markell sat in the conference room of the Delaware Community Foundation office on The Circle in Georgetown and helped to announce plans for a Sussex County "Outdoors" summit scheduled for October.

John Hollis, of Nemours Health and Prevention Services, opened a special press conference by describing what he calls "a life-changing series of events," that are taking place in the state of Delaware in an effort to have "the healthiest kids in America."

Nemours has championed an effort over the past several years to use Sussex County as a pilot project to show what can happen when community, county and state entities in both the public and private sectors join together to address the childhood obesity epidemic.

Last Thursday, Hollis introduced Gov. Markell and praised him as a nationally recognized leader in physical activity and healthy lifestyle promotion. Hollis credited Markell for his vision and leadership in helping the state to earmark $7.5 million this budget year to be used for enhancing walking and bicycling trails throughout the state. Markell has accepted the role of Honorary Chairman of the "Sussex Outdoors" project for 2011-2012. The project is targeting the education and awareness of all that Sussex County has to offer in the way of outside activities.

As part of the Sussex Outdoors project, Nemours HPS, Delaware State Parks, the Sussex County Council and the Sussex Child Health Promotion Coalition have joined to sponsor the "Sussex Outdoors Summit," to be held on Thursday, Oct. 13, at Trap Pond State Park in Laurel. The summit will run from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and feature opportunities to learn about ways to help kids and families take advantage of the outside activities available in Sussex County. The summit will also feature nationally recognized expert of outdoor activities and exercise, Mark Fenton.

During the press conference, Markell expressed the important role that Delaware parks like Trap Pond State Park, play in allowing families to enjoy outside, healthy activities. "Here in Delaware we have outstanding opportunities for kids and families to spend time in our parks," he said. Forget the fact it feels good, it is also an economic investment as well. By promoting healthy outside activities, we can help to cut the extraordinary costs of health care."

Director of Delaware State Parks, Charles Salkin, said there is a national crisis in the area of childhood obesity and serious health problems.

He said the opportunity to bring agencies and communities together is critically important to reverse the trend. He lauded the work being done through Nemours HPS, the Child Health Coalition, the state, county and Delaware parks.

Recently, Markell signed Delaware's "Walkable, Bikeable Delaware" resolution designed to create networks of sidewalks and bike paths throughout the state. Among the primary sponsors of the "Walkable, Bikeable Delaware" Senate Resolution 13, were Sen. Bob Venables of Laurel and Rep. David Wilson of Bridgeville. The legislation directs the Delaware Department of Transportation to invest directly in making walking and bicycling safer and more convenient. In doing so, pedestrians are encouraged to take the more healthy approach to travel by walking or biking.

Venables was in attendance at the press conference and said he was excited that the state is able to invest $7.5 million in helping to enhance walking and bicycling opportunities. He said Trap Pond is an example of how beneficial walking and bicycling trails are to the people who visit. "I have had numerous people stop me and tell me how much they enjoy the walking and bicycling trails. They come from all over to use them," he said. "I know how hard it is when working on getting funding for projects. But, I have a feeling that Gov. Markell's support for the walking and bicycling trails was a big help in us getting this $7.5 million. It is money well spent."

Markell said the state's efforts to invest in the outdoor opportunities in the state are an issue of "quality of life." He said people come to live and visit those communities that have something special to offer. "Parks and trails are an asset," he said. "This is something we can invest in that the people of Delaware can see, and we can be confident in knowing it has a direct and positive impact on the state."

Hollis said the "Walkable, Bikeable Delaware" project is just one more example of the progress being made by Nemours and its many coalition partners throughout the state to help reverse a trend toward unhealthy lifestyles.

He credited the Delaware Department of Parks and Recreation for taking a lead in helping to push the initiative for safer walking and biking in the state.

Hollis shared the data that indicates children spend as much as 44 hours a week in front of a television, computer or video screen, but only a few hours outside. Sussex County Council President Mike Vincent said he is amazed at how inactive kids have become as it pertains to being outside.

"When I was growing up there was no such term as childhood diabetes," he said. "I am excited that we are working together to get kids outside doing things. This is a great day for Sussex County."

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