At most ribbon-cutting ceremonies, the only exercise required of participants might be lifting a giant pair of scissors. During Sunday’s grand re-opening of the Heart Smart Trail in Gunpowder Falls State Park, the big scissors were left in the parking lot while everyone took part in a two-mile riverside hike.
Although Gunpowder offers 100 miles of trails for hiking and other activities, Sunday’s spotlight fell squarely on a one-mile path through the state-designated Sweathouse Branch Wildlands Area, alongside Belair Road near the Kingsville-Perry Hall line.
“This is probably one of our most popular trails, especially for dog walkers and locals who can get here easily and enjoy this nature,” says Andrew Hangen, assistant park manager at Gunpowder. “People love the water for fishing and swimming, and there’s some old-growth forest along the trail. But we’ve had to focus our energy recently on sprucing it up a bit.”
The “Heart Smart” part of the trail originated in 2005 as part of a joint effort between the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Franklin Square Hospital Center, which is part of the MedStar Health System. “We collaborated with the park so that we could have a place where people could exercise and also learn about their heart health at the same time,” said Franklin Square Hospital Center’s Community Outreach Manager Patricia Isennock, R.N.
Trailside signage gives hikers healthy lifestyle tips related to such topics as cholesterol and diabetes. The signs also offer information about local programs ranging from mall-based fitness walks to blood pressure screenings.
Markers are found every tenth of a mile along the path, allowing hikers to keep track of how far they’ve walked. “We can refer patients from the hospital who are in rehab for any reason—for stroke or heart attack or joint replacement, anything like that,” explained Isennock. “They can come here and check their progress and see how far they’ve gone.”
During Sunday’s grand re-opening ceremony (which Isennock admitted was something of a misnomer, since the trail never actually closed while the path and signage were “refreshed”), park visitors mingled with naturalists, as well as representatives from Franklin Square that included a fitness coordinator and a sports medicine physician.
Christopher King, assistant vice president of community health for MedStar Health, came from Washington, D.C., to join the celebration. “Franklin Square is a true model of excellence when it comes to partnering with the community,” King said. “All of our hospitals look up to Franklin Square because of initiatives like this one. … I encourage everyone to take advantage of the park.”
One of about 16 park visitors who joined Sunday’s two-mile hike, Essex resident Debbie Lupo is a cardiovascular technician in Franklin Square’s Heart Department. “A lot of people are totally stressed and don’t get a lot of exercise,” Lupo said. “Hiking along this trail is relaxing and peaceful, and it’s really beautiful out here. Maybe if people get rid of the stress, they won’t have to come out [to the hospital] to see us!”