It’s July, which means that most schools are out for the summer and field trips won’t resume for a couple more months. However, here at LiveWell Colorado, our “field trips” continue all year long.   

I spent a few hours on a recent Friday afternoon taking a little field trip to a number of our LiveWell Colorado communities in the Denver area. Since joining LiveWell Colorado in the beginning of 2011 as the Community Investments Coordinator, I’ve talked a lot about the Bike Depot, Axum Park, and a number of other community successes, but I’ve never actually visited them. I thought it would be an ideal time to visit these communities and compare/contrast them with our new Denver mobilization and planning communities – communities that recently joined LiveWell Colorado. 

As I drove through these communities and spoke with their residents, I realized just how profound of an impact LiveWell Colorado and its communities are having in terms of bringing healthy eating and active living to the local level. Quite honestly, I sometimes forget the impact that we have on communities because I’m one level removed from the “on-the-ground work”, but it was so rewarding and felt very significant to really see that impact first hand. 

First, I stopped in Park Hill, home to Park Hill Thriving Communities, at the Bike Depot. In 2008, Park Hill Thriving Communities partnered with Recycle Bicycles, the Denver City Bike Planner, local business representatives, Denver Parks and Recreation, and Park Hill residents to launch the Park Hill Bike Depot. For those who aren’t familiar with the Bike Depot, it’s a community-based project that aims to equitably increase active living opportunities that contribute to the overall improvement of individual and community health. Residents of Park Hill and surrounding neighborhoods can earn a bike, become skilled at repairing bikes, take a bike safety class, or participate in a variety of wellness programs. 

During my visit to the Bike Depot, I talked to a few of the employees (most started as volunteers) and saw that they had roughly 100 bikes hanging from the ceiling for service work. Four different customers came in during my 15-minute visit. It was terrific to see that they have such a high demand for bikes – both purchased and given away. It’s clear why they are always in need of donated bikes. What a great place!

I then drove down MLK Blvd. toward Axum Park and admired the substantial bike lanes that line the street as a result of the dedication and hard work of Park Hill Thriving Communities as well as numerous community members, partners and stakeholders. When I arrived, I was blown away by how many people were using Axum Park, including kids playing in the field as part of a summer program, a family playing on the playground, a couple of guys on bikes having lunch under a tree, an older couple walking around the path, and a father and his sons playing lacrosse! It has truly been transformed from an unsafe, undesirable place to a fantastic community resource. 

Although I’m sure that Park Hill had started making drastic improvements even before LiveWell Colorado funding began eight years ago, I think it further highlights the impact of our efforts as well as the current needs in the Globeville, Elyria, Swansea (GES)neighborhoods, one of our new Denver mobilization and planning communities. 

In contrast to Axum Park and the ample bike lanes and sidewalks that I saw in Park Hill, GES leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to access to healthy eating and active living (HEAL) opportunities. The playgrounds in GES were covered in graffiti, looked unsafe, and weren’t being utilized when I visited.  

Empty lots are left unattended, underutilized, and inaccessible to the community. A pocket park would be an ideal way to provide access to active living opportunities for this GES neighborhood, but instead this land is left unused and fenced off.

Safe sidewalks are something that’s lacking in GES as well. In a few neighborhoods, there are narrow, two-foot sidewalks that are inadequate at best. Yet, they represent a vast improvement from the entire lack of sidewalks in much of the neighborhood.

After driving through Northeast Denver and GES I ended my tour on a high note at Munroe Elementary School, which is in LiveWell Westwood. I was able to see the beautiful school garden – funded in part by LiveWell Westwood – in its full glory.

I look forward to my next field trip!