Local civic organizations and businesses team up to provide senior citizens and people undergoing physical therapy places to rest while getting exercise on the Ochoco Creek bike and pedestrian path

 - Lucas Berry (left) and Corey Lopez of Crook County Parks and Recreation District install one of 10 benches placed along the Ochoco Creek bike and pedestrian path on Monday.

Carol Benkosky took some time several months ago to speak with local senior citizens and find out what barriers to regular exercise they faced.

What was it that kept them from taking a walk once a day, she wondered. Many answered that while the Ochoco Creek bike and pedestrian path was a great option for walking, and has become safer with the addition of lighting and trimming of nearby vegetation, it lacks places to sit and take a quick break.

So the Crook County Rotarian and member of the Crook County On The Move initiative began exploring the possibility of adding benches along the path. After meeting with City of Prineville officials and local property owners along the path, she applied for an AARP grant to fund the project, and secured donations from Rotary Club of Crook County in conjunction with Crook County On The Move and Crook County Parks and Recreation District.

The AARP grant was one of 129 distributed to communities throughout the country. The bench project was awarded about $8,000 of the $1.3 million given to projects nationwide. The grant awards are intended to deliver a range of transportation and mobility options that increase connectivity or walkability and create vibrant public places that improve open spaces, parks and access to other amenities.

"AARP has teamed up on the ground in communities across the country who hear from mayors, community leaders and local residents about the value of getting quick wins to create long-term change," said Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president of community, state and national affairs.

In addition to the cash donations, several organizations donated their time and effort to install the benches during the past week.

"Heart of Oregon Corps helped out with the prep work, just leveling out the bases for the concrete slabs," said Corey Lopez, CCPRD's irrigation tech who has helped Benkosky organize and complete the project. "We had Joe Floyd and Sons do our concrete slabs."

Finally, Lopez and other Parks District staff installed the benches.

"Right now, we are going to have a total of 10 that we are putting in," Lopez said. "This is the first phase of the project. We are going to be putting in more."

 - The benches are placed every 250 to 300 feet from Juniper Street to Main Street.The benches are placed every 250 to 300 feet along the bike path, he added, and whenever possible, the benches were put in shaded areas to shelter elderly people and people undergoing physical therapy from the heat of the sunny summer days.

"A couple of them are in the sun, but for the most part, they are in the shade," Lopez said.

The benches feature a wrought iron frame and composite seats, and include a middle rail that is intended to help people more easily get up from the benches and discourage homeless individuals from sleeping on them.

Lopez said project leaders hope to secure more funding and resume the project in the spring.

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