New for the Caroline County, Maryland State Parks and Maryland Health Department have expanded its Healthy Parks, Healthy People program to Martinak State Park and Tuckahoe State Park.

The program provides free activities at the park for community members who receive a prescription through their doctor to go out and exercise. Started in 2016 at Rocky Gap State Park, the program expanded to the Eastern Shore this year with Caroline County picked as the first shore location.

The two Caroline parks have partnered with the Caroline County Health Department, Caroline Recreation and Parks, YMCA of the Chesapeake, Choptank Community Health, Shore Regional Health and Adkins Arboretum to administer the program for community members.

The program works when residents visit their doctors, and the doctors write them a prescription to visit Martinak and Tuckahoe for outdoor activities. The parks offer a host a free activities for all ages as part of the program.

Activities in the Healthy Parks, Healthy People program include leisure bike rides, bike workshops, disc golf, family and senior walks, lunch time walks, dog walks, nature walks, sunrise yoga, family yoga, beach volleyball, boot camp, morning stretch, canoeing and kayaking.

“The idea is to get people out into the parks because it is better for their health,” said Martinak and Tuckahoe parks Naturalist Karen Gianninoto. “We are encouraging people to do some healthy walking and hiking and kayaking and all that good stuff. The health department has been instrumental in getting the word out through the doctors and health department staff.

“When someone goes to the doctor, they are actually going to receive a prescription to exercise,” she said. “They will bring their prescription to the park, and we’ll lead the activities for them. All the activities in the Healthy Parks, Healthy People program are guided. Then, we will sign off their prescription card, and they will take it back to the doctor. The doctor then can track how the exercise is benefiting their health.”

Funding for the program comes from the Centers for Disease Control through the Chronic Disease Prevention Grant. The state plans to expand the program to the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park in Dorchester County later this year, and then to the entire state for 2018.

“It is a really cool program,” Gianninoto said. “I’m finding most of the people who are coming are seniors, and they have never been to the parks or gotten out of their car to explore the parks and understand what habitats and diversity we have in our parks. That has been really exciting for me as a naturalist to introduce people to the parks. We are thinking not only physical body, but also your mind, which needs a chance to relax.”

Caroline County Health Department Deputy Health Officer Laura Patrick said the activities have been tailored for all ages with a person’s medical history in mind. She said the family and senior walks are guided, which gives people a chance to explore the parks with neighbors rather than alone.

“For some people, we have to watch what kinds of exercise they do based on their medical history,” she said. “The doctors can recommend certain activities that will help them. Not everyone may be able to do volleyball, so we have activities such as the senior walks, bike rides and yoga available in the program.”

Patrick said program is able to happen through the community partnerships formed with the health department and state parks.

“We are blessed in Caroline County with so many great organizations and businesses that work very well together,” she said “We would not be able to do this program without all the great partners we have.

“We went to Choptank Community Health and they were on board from the start,” she said. “Choptank Community Health has been a great partner, and they see 90 percent of our patients in the county. Shore Regional Health also has partnered with us on the program, and they do great things for us in the community. All the key players in health are involved, and that means a lot to the trust for the people in Caroline County when they know all of us are together and saying the same message about exercise.”

For more information on the Healthy Parks, Healthy People Program, visit Martinak State Park at www.dnr2.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/eastern/martinak.aspx or Tuckahoe State Park at www.dnr2.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/eastern/tuckahoe.aspx. Also the parks can be reached by phone by calling 410-820-1668.

Follow Caroline/Dorchester Editor Dustin Holt on Twitter @Dustin_StarDem.

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