Section of Little Rock's
Arkansas River Trail made possible by the healthcare community.
By Terry Eastin
December 2003 - In a groundbreaking move to increase awareness and thus, impact prevention of obesity and heart disease in Arkansas, two dozen physicians with the state's largest cardiology clinic agreed unanimously to support completion of the Arkansas River Trail by fundraising $350,000 over two years to create a "medical mile" of trail in the heart of downtown Little Rock.
The inspiration, born of a collaboration between the National Park Service Rivers Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, Heart Clinic Arkansas and Little Rock Parks and Recreation, became the focal point for a unique health and trails partnership that created the nation's first outdoor linear health museum.
"Our participation in this project is a way of saying 'Thank you' and represents an effort to give back to the community by offering our citizens a safe and accessible place to exercise and by encouraging a more healthy lifestyle." said Dr. Eleanor Kennedy, Heart Clinic Arkansas
The "Medical Mile" has become an artistic expression of health designed to inspire, delight, and motivate people to make wellness-oriented lifestyle changes. It includes a 1,300 foot three-dimensional mural wall, a wellness promenade with artful displays, as well as, a Body-Mind-Spirit entry plaza that encourages trail users to remember that a healthy mind and spirit are the key steps toward a healthy body.
The project theme, developed by the Arkansas Department of Health, a project partner, focused on an "Exercise + Smoking Cessation + Better Nutrition" formula that signals a 70% reduction in chronic disease. By using varying spacial and interpretive perspectives, each of the three key features provided something unique and inspiring for trail users.
The Medical Mile winds along the river through the most prominent commercial and recreational district in Arkansas. Riverfront Park, the location of the Medical Mile is the hub of the central district. The park is adjacent to the Clinton Presidential Library and numerous other venues like the Arkansas Statehouse Convention Center. Over two million people from around the world visit the area each year. The Medical Mile gives a positive impression of a city dedicated to the health and wellness of its citizens.
The Medical Mile can be experienced from either direction, on foot, roller blades or wheels. Created for the physically fit and physically unfit, young and old and in-between, the Arkansas River Trail Medical Mile is a resounding statement about the need to focus national attention on preventable chronic disease through lifestyle changes.
Supported by major hospitals, coalitions, the Arkansas Department of Health, numerous individual physicians and medical practices, the fundraising program exceeded the $350,000 goal in the first three months of the campaign. By the end of the promised two years, the project had raised $2.1 million.
The Medical Mile is only one dazzling piece of the Arkansas River Trail. Making a fourteen mile loop with an additional ten mile extension to Pinnacle Mountain State Park, the trail will eventually connect with the 225-mile Ouachita Wilderness trail. In the words of Mayor Jim Dailey."Over 24 key tourism destinations, including 5,000+ acres of federal, state, and local parkland will be connected by the trail. Developers use the trail's proximity to sell high-rise condominiums, housing and commercial developments. From the perspective of the City of Little Rock, the trail is an economic, health, and environmental conservation stimulator."
Innovative "Medical Mile" hailed by national trails leaders
From the City of Little Rock, Arkansas
"As I travel the country, I tell everyone that Little Rock is a cradle of innovation with healthcare and recreation partnerships," said Diana Allen of the National Park Service River Trails and Conservation Assistance Program.
Ms. Allen made the remarks at the dedication of the Medical Mile section of the Arkansas River Trail. The $2.1 million Medical Mile starts at St. Vincent Plaza in the River Market section of Riverfront Park and extends westward through the park.
Joining Ms. Allen in the ceremony were Jeff Ciabotti of the Rails to Trails Conservancy; Pam Gluck of American Trails; Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey; and Drs. Lynn Davis, Eleanor Kennedy, and Robert Lambert of Heart Clinic of Arkansas.
Mayor Dailey paid special tribute to the physicians and staff of Heart Clinic of Arkansas:
"When these physicians agreed to help raise money for this project, they made a two year commitment. That was more than three years ago. The excitement within the healthcare community has been so to use a medical term contagious, that the project has grown beyond its original scope. I am grateful to Lynn, Eleanor, and Rob for their continued dedication to this endeavor. I also want to thank Marcia Atkinson, Heart Clinic administrator for all of her work."
"The Medical Mile is a tangible way for the healthcare community to enable citizens to make wellness oriented lifestyle changes," said Dr. Lambert. "We see too many patients who need our assistance because of their lifestyle, not because of factors beyond their control. That is why my colleagues and I decided to become involved. We did not set out to be innovators in getting the healthcare community involved in recreation from a public health standpoint. We simply saw an opportunity for action."
According to Terry Eastin, the coordinator for the Arkansas River Trail, "The Medical Mile is an outdoor linear health museum that uses a variety of artistic and architectural expressions to promote the health benefits of physical activity, and other wellness themes." The artwork was created by Debra Moseley Lord, and the contractor was Bell-Corley Construction.
"Even before we had this dedication, the Medical Mile is accomplishing its mission. Every day of the week, from morning to evening you can see people walking, jogging, running, and biking along this stretch of park," said Mayor Dailey. "Each step they take is a step towards a healthy future for themselves, for Little Rock, and for the state of Arkansas."
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Updated June 17, 2015