County fitness park gets large grant

By Margaret High

By early 2019, people will be able to do a lot more than just walk or run at the Columbus County Fitness Park.

Julie Strickland, Columbus County Parks & Recreation director, said a $156,000 grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust will provide funding for major upgrades at the fitness center, including a state-of-the-art outdoor workout system and bathroom facilities.

The 2018 National Fitness Campaign (NFC) system boasts free gym access to people of all ages. There are seven sections of the 38-foot by 38-foot basketball court-style fitness center, each section targeting a different aspect of a workout.

The center has more than 30 pieces of body weight equipment. It is designed with a seven-movement, seven-minute system to provide a workout for people of all abilities.

Construction is planned to start by the end of 2018 at the fitness park, located near the Farmer’s Market off U.S. 701 North. The addition will be situated immediately in front of the parking lot, allowing for easy access.

In addition to building a new fitness court, the NFC will provide a downloadable app in partnership with Fit Radio. The app allows users to find workouts using the equipment and syncing it to music. NFC compares it to having a free personal trainer at people’s fingertips.

“There aren’t obstacles to anyone joining a gym because it’ll be free,” Strickland said.

Applying for the project and grant happened very quickly, Strickland said. She had been looking for ways to improve the Columbus County Fitness Park when she found the 2018 NFC. Usually, Columbus County struggles with grant opportunities because grants are based on per capita demands, Strickland added.

The first time she requested the NFC come to Columbus County, officials said no. Strickland tried again, eventually winning them over after they saw the fitness park.

“For whatever reason, everything’s falling into place,” Strickland said.

Being awarded the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust grant was a major part of securing the NFC’s support. While NFC foots $10,000 of the bill, it costs cities or counties requesting installment $60,000. Strickland didn’t have the funds from the Parks and Recreation Department budget, so she looked for other funding.

The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust is the legacy of the late Kate Gertrude Bitting Reynolds, who was married to William Neal Reynolds, chairman of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. The family established the trust in 1947 and it is now one of the largest private trusts in North Carolina. Its mission is to improve the health and quality of life of financially disadvantaged residents in North Carolina.

“This funding will establish an accessible outdoor training system without a cost barrier and give residents the ability to improve their overall health,” Strickland said.

For some time, Strickland asked for feedback on the fitness center. She pitched the opportunity to Rachel Smith, an organizer of Girls on the Run, and other members of the county who are invested in providing fitness for the public.

Everyone was excited and supportive, Strickland said.

By 2019, Columbus County will have the first “new age” Fitness Court in North Carolina, according to a spokesperson for the NFC.

“I’m really excited that it doesn’t matter if it’s an 80 year old or an 8 year old,” Strickland said. “Anyone who wants to be healthy can use it.”