UW sidewalk stencil project along Bear River encourages kids to play outside

Evanston students and parents gather around the hopscotch stencil for a paint demonstration at the Bear River Greenway. UW Extension has started a stencil project that encourages children to get outside and play. (UW Photo)

Stencils painted on the Bear River Greenway in Evanston are the latest painted at sites around Wyoming encouraging kids to get outside and play.

Games such as hopscotch and Simon Says have been set aside as children have become less active. The Cent$ible Nutrition Program (CNP), part of the University of Wyoming Extension, and its community partners say they are trying to change this by painting game stencils on sidewalks and playgrounds.

Spray and Play, an event coordinated by CNP and the Evanston Parks and Recreation District (EPRD), celebrated the last day of school for Evanston students and their families. The families had lunch, followed by painting sidewalk stencils at the Bear River Greenway.

The greenway follows the Bear River through Evanston, providing more than 2 miles of paved trails. The new Health Trail Fitness Course is at the main entry. The course includes 14 fitness stations for adults. While the trail and fitness course encourage adults to be active, there are no kid-specific activities.

“There are a number of people who access this area daily, and we’ve got some new exercise equipment,” says Marilee Jackson, business manager for Evanston Parks and Recreation. “But, we don’t have a lot for kids because we never put a playground over here, and we probably won’t. But, with that said, stuff on the sidewalk would be great.”

The Wyoming Department of Health purchased six sets of stencils as part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s State Public Health Actions grant. CNP agreed to house the stencils in UW Extension offices around the state when the grant ended.

Bear River Greenway is the seventh stencil site in Wyoming. The greenway stencils are unique because they are in a park setting. The stencils have been painted at schools and daycares in other Wyoming communities. The idea to paint them at the greenway, a public space in Evanston, came from Uinta County CNP Educator Beth Barker.

“I just had this thought that we have this really nice greenway, and there are activity stations for adults along the path,” Barker says. “And I thought it’d be great to have activities for kids to do while their parents are doing the adult activities.”

Through community contacts and some perfect timing, Barker connected with the board of the Better Environment and River (BEAR) Project Inc. Barker and Kim Proffit, the Uinta County Public Health nurse manager, presented the stencil idea to the board March 20. The project was approved shortly afterward.

“The thing that really grabbed the BEAR board is getting kids outside,” says Jackson, a 20-year board member. “We’re finding, especially my generation, that nobody knows what hopscotch is; nobody knows what jacks are.”

Cody Webb, of the Evanston Police Department, talked during the lunch before the event about using public spaces. He explained when painting the sidewalks is okay and when it is not. The EPRD is hoping that by getting kids involved in the process, they will have some ownership of the stencils. EPRD also is hoping this ownership will help prevent destruction of the stencils. This is one of the biggest concerns for this project because the greenway is tucked away from town, Jackson says.

Nicholas Winn, a custodian at the Evanston Recreation Center and an artist, demonstrated how to paint the stencils using spray paint before everyone divided into groups. Over the course of two hours, 13 stencils were painted along a portion of the fitness path.

With everyone gathered on the sidewalk bordering the parking lot, Barker and Jackson pulled out the huge stencil boxes from the truck bed. Participants put on plastic gloves and masks. Winn shook a can of spray paint. It was time.

Hopscotch was the first stencil. Winn offered a few tips on how to use spray paint on the stencils and demonstrated the constant movement and proper distance for even coloring. Barker showed how to use extra cardboard to cover parts of the stencil. Armed with information and cans of paint, the group applied the stencils along the course.

“The idea is to just go outside and play. It doesn’t have to be this big, organized, structured thing,” Jackson says of kids being active.

The stencils hardly dried before kids started to play hopscotch, their parents showing them how. “Mirror Me” drew a crowd as groups of kids tried the new game.

Jackson noted that, while nothing is set, EPRD is eager to paint more stencils after seeing how the initial set works.

“We’re excited,” Jackson says. “We just threw this together kind of last minute. We thought, ‘Let’s feed them and then get them here, then go see what we can do.’”

Barker and Jackson plan to post signs next to the stencils with instructions on how to play the games.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) and Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) fund CNP. The stencil project was funded by SNAP-Ed. CNP provides nutrition education to individuals and families with limited resources. CNP also collaborates with community organizations serving populations with limited resources to help make the healthy choice the easy choice for everyone, according to the program’s information.

For more information, visit the website at www.uwyo.edu/cnp.

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