December 17, 2013 [KALAMAZOO, Mich.] Kalamazoo County, including the cities of Portage and Kalamazoo, was one of four communities across the nation selected as a Road Runner’s Club of America (RRCA) Runner Friendly Community, an honor that will be recognized for the next five years. The goal of the program is to shine a national spotlight on communities that stand out as runner friendly and to provide incentives and ideas for communities to work collaboratively towards this goal. Other communities receiving the designation through the most recent selection process were Chattanooga, TN, Sarasota, FL and South Lake, FL.
According to RRCA’s national press release, “these communities have shown they meet the program’s criteria, which includes community infrastructure, community support and local government support. Each community has an infrastructure that can foster physical activity in a safe environment, a proven track record that organizations and businesses work together to promote running as a health exercise and sport, and there are positive relationships between the running community and local government.”
All applicants are reviewed and scored by a selection panel consisting of RRCA board and staff members, based on their ability to prove that they meet most of the criteria under each segment.
The nomination was submitted to RRCA by affiliate Kalamazoo Area Runners (KAR) and the letter of support from Board President Bonnie Sexton and Executive Director Joy Mills stated, “Kalamazoo County represents community collaboration at its finest, with running event and program organizers, businesses, municipalities, school systems and non-profit organizations striving together in partnership to promote and grow the sport of running. This spirit of collaboration has helped drive the Kalamazoo Area Runners (KAR) to emerge as the largest RRCA Running Club in the state of Michigan with more than 1200 members. Our club partners extensively with business, local government, school districts, our local university and other non-profit 501 (c) (3) organizations to host running events, training programs and group runs throughout Kalamazoo County.”
The nomination included additional letters of support from a combination of public leaders and private business owners across Kalamazoo County, the City of Kalamazoo, the City of Portage, Southwest Michigan First, and the Borgess Run for the Health of It & Kalamazoo Marathon. All of the endorsements shared a consistent theme; one of community collaboration to achieve a common goal in promoting health and wellness through the sport of running.
In Kalamazoo County’s letter of endorsement, David Maturen (Board Chair), Peter Battani (Administrator/Controller) and Linda Vail (Director, Health Officer) state, “Physical exercise is a critical component of reaching ones highest health potential. The County is proud to promote and endorse our communities’ efforts to create a space where all residents have the opportunity to increase their health capacity in a safe and friendly environment. Finally, we view exercise and overall good health as essential to community and economic development.”
The cities of Portage and Kalamazoo have a long-standing tradition of serving as proponents of infrastructure improvements to enhance physical activity for regional benefit, said Portage Mayor Peter Strazdas in RRCA’s press release.” “The City of Portage embarked upon a multi-use trail system over 25 years ago and now has 18 miles of independent trails. The main trail is over six miles and length and has distance markings and minimal road crossings.”
The recommendation from Portage leadership, including Strazdas stated, “Portage trails and paved shoulder facilities are recognized as quality amenities by residents from throughout the county and beyond, serving as destination sites for regional citizen enjoyment. The city hosts over 12 walk/run events on the trail system annually, including the Winter Blast Half Marathon & 5k as coordinated by KAR.”
“The City of Kalamazoo understands the economic impact and health benefits of a runner friendly community and is pleased to support the Kalamazoo Area Runners’ efforts,” states Sean Fletcher, Director of Parks and Recreation. “City of Kalamazoo officials from several departments, including Public Safety, Public Services and Parks and Recreation work cooperatively with local running groups to coordinate venues, approve race routes and ensure safety for everyone involved in road races.”
In his letter of endorsement, Ron Kitchens, CEO of Southwest Michigan First, shares a similar spirit of cooperation, “Our collaborative approach to community health allows us to work with employers, non-profit organizations and governments to help breathe the spirit of healthy lifestyles into everyday life here.”
Kalamazoo is home to the Kalamazoo Marathon and Borgess Run for the Health of It, a major community event that collaborates heavily with businesses, organizations and local government. It attracted approximately 8,500 participants and 900+ to its Borgess Run Camp Training Program in 2013 and is supported by more than 75 sponsors.
What is the vision for our collective running community? Borgess Run for the Health of It Co-Directors Blaine Lam (Lam & Associates), JaNeen Dosca (Borgess Health) and Chris Lampen-Crowell (Gazelle Sports) sum it up well in their letter of support, “In a sense, we aspire to be America’s next greatest running community.”
Through its selection as an RRCA Runner Friendly Community, Kalamazoo County and its cities are well on the path to emerging as one of the top running communities in the nation.