With the snow and ice a far distant memory, Corvallis’ Active Strides program now has more “spring” in its step.

The year-round program, which actually only canceled one walk during last winter’s snow and ice, is cut into 10-week sessions followed by a short break of several weeks. It’s ideal for older adults who too often are stuck inside.

It gets them exploring different outdoor locations around Corvallis and allows them to meet other retirees. They also get to learn diverse facts about their town while staying active. Some of the areas walked this winter include Avery Park, the Jackson Frazier Wetlands, Bald Hill and Bruce Starker Arts Park.

Each route includes one to three miles led by locals Nell Kolodziej and Sally Robertson. It is open to all walking abilities, ages 50 and older.

Besides providing exercise and learning, the program lets seniors watch the town transform from one season to the next.

Corvallis Parks and Recreation sponsors the program, which is led by Caitlyn Reilley, coordinator and recreation program assistant. She sets up the walking area, maps out the walk and reviews the walking discussions with Kolodziej and Robertson.

Typically, the walks include two volunteers who discuss the areas they are walking through, although occasionally when Kolodziej or Robertson aren’t available, volunteer students from Oregon State University lead or help lead the program.

“I enjoy providing these people with regular exercise and social interaction,” Reilley says. “The two go hand in hand and allow participants to meet new people and give them something to look forward to each week.”

So far, the year-old program hasn’t had any problems, other than last winter’s icy sidewalks, Reilley says. And, its benefits totally outweigh any problems.

“Besides social interaction and exercise, the program decreases stress leading to healthier joints, bones and muscles,” she says. “It also offers participants better sleep.”

She cites a Harvard health publication that says 2.5 hours of weekly exercise cuts heart disease by 30 percent.

The current program, which started April 5, has increased from 10 to 14 walkers. The spring program includes one- to three-mile walks with visits on the Campus Way path, Bruce Starker Arts Park, Avery Park, Jackson Frazier Wetlands, Crystal Lakes Sports Park, Midge Cramer Path, Bald Hill, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park and the OSU campus, and Chintimini Senior and Community Center.

Each outing earns the walker a raffle ticket for prizes from Tried and True Coffee, garden supplies from Shonnards Nursery, three 30-minute massages from Norah Richards, and swim passes to Osborn Aquatic Center. Local businesses donate the raffle prizes and Reilley hopes these continue and increase.

Besides helping seniors, the program has been fun and beneficial to some of its volunteers. For example, Kolodziej notes that even though some of the older adults have lived their entire lives in Corvallis, the talks during the walks enlighten their knowledge of the area. “They learn all kinds of new things about Corvallis,” she says.

Additionally, as a volunteer for Meals on Wheels, she met a man she saw frequently, but got to really know him when he joined the walks. She was saddened to learn of his recent death.

Kolodziej has lived in the area for 23 years and is known as a walker. “I walk quite a bit anyway and was excited to be a volunteer,” she says. “I enjoy sharing with the seniors, it’s great for me to see how active people can be even when they are much older. And, walking gives all of us a different perspective of Corvallis, compared with riding in a car.”

She’s gotten to know some of the people, sees them around town and may give them a ride or stop and talk with them.

Some of last year’s programs included a meeting at Bruce Starker Arts Park. That took them along a paved path past the SAGE garden, where the city’s Environmental Center and volunteers grow fresh produce for local food banks, soup kitchens and even the senior center.

Winter trips also went through Corvallis’ quaint neighborhoods north of Grant Avenue, including St. Mary’s, one of Corvallis’ oldest cemeteries. Participants also got to see a spectacular view of Mount Hood from the top of Alta Vista Drive and, because it was cold, the walk included a stop for a cup of coffee at The Coop.

Another walk went to Jackson Frazier Wetlands, leading them through a nature portion of the city that typically is overlooked. Walkers also went from Crystal Lakes Sports Park to a trip along the Willamette River.

Seniors also met at Benton County Fairgrounds at the Midge Cramer Path and walked to the base of Bald Hill and back. Another walk took them to Chepenalfa Spring Park through a number of paths for views of Chip Ross, Mary’s Peak and Dimple Hill.

The final winter walk on March 8 started at the Chintimini Senior Center through its campus and the historic district west of the center and back. Once they returned they entered the lounge for coffee and a raffle drawing.

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