Recreation NW Parkscriptions

Bellingham public health and medical professionals increasingly want you to take a walk in the woods — or even just around the block.

It’s all part of a national program called Parkscriptions, or ParkRx. It is a national program, based in Washington D.C., aimed at encouraging community mental and physical health through physical activity like walking and hiking.

And, locally, the nonprofit Recreation Northwest has adopted the concept as part of its drive to put Bellingham on the map as the recreation capital of the Northwest.

In 2013, April Claxton and Todd Elsworth founded the nonprofit with the principles of stewardship of public lands in mind. For the last four years, they have served as the problem-solvers for the central question: How do you get more people engaged outdoors and being a part of Bellingham’s recreation economy?

That is clear for Claxton. “Highlight all the amazing outdoor recreation places and opportunities we have in (Bellingham) and really, to have more people look to Bellingham as the place to come outside and play.”

Bellingham’s proximity to the mountains, forests and the Salish Sea make it an ideal location for spending time outdoors. Be it hiking, alpine sports, kayaking, biking or trail running, Bellingham has quickly become one of the hallmark destinations for outdoor enthusiasts around the region.

Part of her job is to make people want to move to Bellingham, Claxton joked.

If Claxton could tell you one thing, it would be that getting outdoors is good for your health. And she would be right. A growing community of the public, medical practitioners and public health professionals agree, going on a hike is good for you.

Parkscriptions is new to Recreation Northwest, Claxton said, and is as simple — literally — as a walk in the park. The program is simple, Claxton explained, instead of medicine, the health practitioner prescribes an activity.

The patient then receives a prescribed routine like a weekly stroll in a green space around their home or spending a few hours a week exploring trails near their home. Parkscriptions is about getting over the barriers that keep people at home or inside, Claxton explained.

“Specifically, that it will help people get over that initial hurdle of where to go and what to do, because I think often if you are just hearing “Go outside” or just exercise and it is not something you do all the time. It is daunting to think about what you should do and where you should go.”

So far, four medical providers have adopted the program locally and more than 121 people have been prescribed activities. Claxton hopes to make it 40 medical providers in the coming year.

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"Bellingham’s proximity to the mountains, forests and the Salish Sea make it an ideal location for spending time outdoors."