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Blue Zones project sums up efforts

The Dalles Blue Zones project recently updated the Wasco County Board of County Commissioners about several projects in the works to meet their goal of engaging 15 percent of the community, age 15 and up, by the end of three years.

Other goals for the three-year program include enacting both short and long-term community policies concerning the manmade environment, food and tobacco.

“It’s been really nice to have people who have been working on these projects for many years come together,” said Leticia Valle, Blue Zones Project community program manager, at the March 7 meeting.

Blue Zones is also planning two major infrastructure projects to help ease transportation.

A “Marquee Project,” involving infrastructure is required by each Blue Zones community, but The Dalles team is choosing to be ambitious and tackle two, said Taylor Smith, engagement lead.

The first project will involve calming traffic on 19th Street near Dry Hollow Elementary. The safety of that area has been a long-time point of concern for residents, Smith said.

Valle explained plans to temporarily redesign Dry Hollow’s drop-off and pick-up areas to see if that helps ease the traffic problem. She projected it would take 10 months to a year to complete a redesigned parking lot in gravel, just to see if the redesign is effective before moving forward with a permanent solution. The school district will be paying $50,000-$60,000 for the project, and the money is already allocated in the budget.

The second Blue Zones endeavor involves working with Friends of Mill Creek Greenway to realize their plans for the Mill Creek Trail that will ultimately run from Thompson Park behind the aquatic center to the senior center and Cherry Heights Road.

The first phase involves putting down a hard-surface on the 10-foot-wide trail starting behind the Aquatic Center and running along Mill Creek to the Mid-Columbia Senior Center. The second phase would take the trail up to Cherry Heights Road and to Kramer Field.

Friends of Mill Creek Greenway have been big supporters of the project, Smith said, and Northern Wasco County Parks and Recreation District has agreed to take charge of trail maintenance.

“Blue Zones has been able to get all the right people at the table,” she said.

There is also discussion about adding bike lanes on First Street to ease transportation, as well as connecting The Dalles Riverfront Trail to the Mill Creek trail. The ultimate goal is to connect lower income areas to the downtown area.

To date, $94,500 has been secured to cover engineering costs for the project’s first phase. Blue Zones did not bring any new money in for this project, Smith said, as Parks and Rec have secured the fundsfrom Urban Renwal. Leftover funds will go to Thompson Park.

The proposed trail would ultimately reduce maintenance costs, Valle told the board. The first phase of the project has already been approved and will take an estimated 10 months, she said.

The second phase of the project is more difficult to complete because the trail route runs through land owned by multiple property owners.

The Blue Zones Project seeks to make the healthier choice the easier choice, from restaurant menus to grocery shopping to getting around town, the Chronicle previously reported.

Toward that end, Valle also announced plans with Grocery Outlet to include a special checkout lane, stocked with healthy snacks like trail-mix, whole fruits and water.

The idea is to influence last-minute impulse buys in the checkout lane, Valle said, and promote healthier snacking. The first lane will open within the next couple months and be a part of Blue Zones’ larger actions with the store.

“We’ll use [that first one] as leverage with Fred Meyer,” she said.

Since The Dalles has significantly more convenience stores than grocery stores, Blue Zones also hopes to leverage food marts to stock healthy and affordable snack and meal options.

Valle also listed off the program’s successes and future plans. Among successes, she mentioned that January’s kickoff event had 350 adults present and yielded 184 personal pledges to participate in Blue Zones activities such as the Moais or a Purpose Workshop and complete a healthy-living checklist.

In addition, the first Spanish-language purpose workshop has taken place and 13 organizations registered as Blue Zones worksites, meaning that they committed to offer solutions in the workplace to help employees be healthier and happier at work.

The various Moais, which have people coming together around a common interest such as walking or potlucks, have also experienced success.

“What we’re trying to do is build social support,” said Valle.

The slowest area of Blue Zone’s planning to take off is faith and civic, but those areas are moving forward, she said.

Blue Zones was the name given by a National Geographic team to a handful of areas around the globe where more people lived to 100 than anywhere else in the world.

The residents were found to have nine lifestyle characteristics in common, ranging from eating well and being active to having a life purpose, connection to a faith community and strong social outlets.

The Dalles was chosen to be a demonstration community last year.

Over the course of three years, the community-led Blue Zones Project hopes to lower health care costs, reduce chronic illness, boost productivity and increase civic engagement.

“Collectively, we’re working on some really great ideas with policy that can last long-term,” Valle told county officials.


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