Investment in Healthier Residents May Reduce Costs

State Rep. Dave Wilson (R-Cedar Creek Hundred); Dave Raymond, the original Phillie Phanatic; and State Rep. Harvey Kenton (R-Milford) chat briefly following a recent press event in Georgetown to promote efforts to encourage healthier lifestyles among Delawareans.

Officials are loosening the state’s purse strings so more Delawareans can tighten their belts, literally.

Included in this year’s Bond Bill is $7 million to create new biking and walking paths in Delaware, $2 million of which is earmarked for state parks.

The effort is part of a larger campaign by a bipartisan group of elected leaders, the Nemours Health and Prevention Services, and numerous other individuals and groups to encourage healthier lifestyles in The First State.

At a recent press conference to discuss some of these efforts, Gov. Jack Markell said the need for many Delawareans to improve their level of physical fitness is a matter of economic necessity. Citing the unsustainable upward spiral of healthcare costs, the governor said a significant portion of this spending “could be avoided if people would take better care of themselves.”

That opinion is backed by some sobering statistics. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 37-percent of Delaware children are overweight. For adults, nearly two-thirds weigh more than they should.

Charles A. Salkin, Director of the Delaware Division of Parks and Recreation, said the average American child spends more than 40 hours in front of a TV or computer screen each week, while only experiencing four minutes of structured play.

State Rep. Harvey Kenton (R-Milford), a past vice-president of the Milford Boys and Girls Club, said encouraging kids to make better choices now will pay dividends for taxpayers later as those children grow into healthier, more active adults. Commenting on one of the state’s healthy living initiatives, “No Child Left Inside,” Rep. Kenton said: “I think we need to expand that to ‘No Adult Left Inside.'”

Earlier this year, the General Assembly adopted legislation asking the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) to expand its efforts to create networks of walkways and bikeways. State Rep. Dave Wilson (R-Cedar Creek Hundred), who was a prime sponsor of the resolution, said he believes the measure is a step in the right direction.

Key to making the new system of trails and paths successful, once it’s created, will be its promotion. Dave Raymond, the man best-known as the original Phillie Phanatic (1978 to 1993), and a childhood friend of Gov. Markell, is already looking at that challenge.

Now the head of Newark-based Raymond Entertainment, a company that makes character-branded programs (mascots), Mr. Raymond said his organization has been tapped to design a plan to drive traffic to the paths. Noting the example of the Phillie Phanatic, Mr. Raymond said the character has become “a living, breathing brand extension” that has brought families to the ballpark.

“A visual reference, a graphics design reference, a spokes-character for the trail systems in Sussex and lower Delaware is ultimately what we think will be the biggest success,” Mr. Raymond said. “There is no time frame, but we are starting now to get the ideas on paper.”

State Rep. Dan Short (R-Seaford), a member of the Sussex Child Health Promotion Coalition, says he’s hopeful one of the new trails will be developed in Seaford, building off of the existing habits and routines of local residents.

“There is a two-mile path that dozens of people already use that loops the city-owned golf course and surrounding neighborhoods,” Rep. Short said. “I’ve been talking to Chas Salkin, at the Division of Parks and Recreation, to design a defined trail that will be integrated into the community and include benches and other accessories that will make it more inviting and user-friendly.”

On the distant horizon, some supporters say they would like to develop a hiking and biking trail linking Cape Henlopen State Park near Lewes with Trap Pond State Park east of Laurel.

In the near future, these issues will get further attention during the Sussex Outdoor Summit at the Trap Pond Nature Center to be held October 13th.