September 26, 2008

Buttons are popping up all over Bullitt County that read "Ask me about Second Sunday." They're part of a word-of-mouth campaign that organizers hope will stir up interest in a statewide day of physical activity, an event like none other in the country.

It's time to get Kentuckians moving in the right direction; that's the goal and slogan of Second Sunday. Organized by specialists and agents in the family and consumer sciences arm of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service in cooperation with local officials and other organizations, more than 50 percent of the state's counties will close a road or roads from 2 to 6 p.m. Oct. 12, the second Sunday of the month. The road closings will give people the opportunity to get out and exercise in a fun, safe, community-friendly environment.

Diana Doggett, one of the event's organizers, said the idea originated in Bogotá, Columbia, where more than 70 miles of city streets are closed to cars every Sunday, encouraging thousands of people to merge onto them for walking, biking, picnicking and meeting with friends and strangers. In this country, individual municipalities have occasionally done their own variation. But Second Sunday is the first time such an event has occurred across an entire state.

"Second Sunday is an event when an entire state can come together on a single day to encourage its citizens to collectively get outdoors to de-stress, get healthy and connect personally with their fellow citizens," Doggett said.

Kentucky is consistently ranked among the top 10 states for obesity and obesity-related diseases, though a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the commonwealth was one of only five states to record a drop in its obesity rate last year. According to Doggett, a family and consumer sciences agent in Fayette County, that improvement shows that Kentuckians have taken notice and are determined to improve the state's health status further.

"I think we've been classified as a population who couldn't care less and wouldn't make these improvements at the point they were presented to us. I think (Second Sunday) is changing that perception, that yes, we would," she said.

"It doesn't take a lot of money, and it would not take an act of Congress for a community to rise above whatever challenges they have economically and healthwise and say, as of this particular date, we are going to make some changes.... And I think this is what it is all about. Will it be fast change? By no means. But it will be embraced change."

Doggett said organizers didn't expect such an overwhelming response from so many counties this first year.

"It's a wonderful, rewarding opportunity to see these committees take action and plan and embrace the whole concept," she said.

Every county has developed its own program, based on its strengths, environment and unique attributes. In Muhlenberg County, they're giving away a Wii and a Wii Fit in a drawing for people who walk, bike, run, or skateboard on the local Rails to Trails that day.

Blue Licks Battlefield State Resort Park in Robertson County will open some of the park's scenic roads to pedestrians and cyclists.

There will be bike polo, a dog bone hunt, and tandem bicycles for the blind, among other activities, in Fayette County.

In Johnson County, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent Brenda Cockerham couldn't wait until October and has already organized two Second Sundays. On the second Sunday in August and September, downtown Paintsville streets were car-free and, instead, filled with walkers, cyclists, skateboarders and families enjoying a day together in the fresh air. The popular event will repeat on the official Second Sunday date.

Gallatin's County Judge Executive Kenny French returned home from a built environment conference in June excited about what could be done for little money to improve the health of his county's citizens. Rosie Allen, Gallatin County family and consumer sciences agent, said he had much of the logistics thought out before she even approached him.

"We are closing a road called Little Sugar Creek," she said. "It has kind of a steep grade to it, so at the end we'll have a hayride and bring everyone back. And then we'll have a family event at the voting precinct."

In Bullitt County, Second Sunday, to be held in Hillview, is merely the start of much bigger plans.

"Bullitt County ranks very high - higher than the state -- in several different (health) problems because we're a bedroom community," said Ruth Chowning, the county's family and consumer sciences agent, pointing out that 85 percent of the population travels outside the county to work, spending an average of one to one and a half hours on the road to get to their destination.

"This event is actually our kickoff event," she said.

In upcoming weeks and months, there are plans for "downtown walks" in other cities in the county. There are also plans for holding monthly meetings at the extension office to discuss how to help people be physically active by meeting their needs in the county.

"Are those needs bike trails? Are they walking trails? Are they horseback riding trails? Is it sidewalks?" Chowning said. "We're going to look at the whole county and what is needed in each area of the county. We're trying to develop a great big countywide strategic plan."

Deborah Murray, associate director of UK Health Education through Extension Leadership, said Second Sunday could serve to show local officials that people really are interested in having access to places for exercise.

"I think communities can begin to have the discussion about what do we already have that we can take advantage of now that really doesn't cost us any money," she said.

Doggett is optimistic that next year's event will be even bigger, with more counties participating.

"We're well over 50 percent participation this year, and it looks as if Second Sunday could be something special that will hopefully support and propel a movement toward our state's improved health, economy and environment," she said.

With so many counties in the state participating this year, though, a person won't have to go very far to find an event. There is an open invitation to "Be there - Be Healthy!" For more information on Second Sunday in your area, contact the local extension office.