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Leading by Example: National Park Service Employees Get Active with the PALA Challenge

For the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA), helping communities lead active, outdoor lifestyles, is a top priority. This summer, RTCA employees challenged themselves to complete 30 minutes or more of physical activity each day as part of a national PALA competition.

Research shows that children’s health behaviors are linked with the behaviors of those closest to them, namely parents or other caregivers. Children are like sponges- they take in the sights and sounds around them to form their own habits that eventually develop into lifelong behaviors. That’s why it’s so important for adults to set the precedent for healthy living now, so that future generations have healthy role models to learn from.

The National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program (RTCA) staff recognize the importance of setting the bar high. RTCA’s mission is to support community-led outdoor recreation projects, and to facilitate physical activity in communities. In dozens of cities and towns across the country, RTCA is working with municipal leaders and local organizations to improve or expand parks and trail networks, enhance and increase access to waterways, build bike paths, and restore native ecosystems. 

This past summer, RTCA staff nationwide decided to lead by example in local communities by committing to the PALA challenge (for adults, this means meeting the recommended 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week, for 6 weeks). As an intern in the RTCA office in Boston, I was fortunate enough to help lead this initiative.

To facilitate this, we encouraged RTCA staff to create an account on the President’s Active Lifestyle Award (PALA)website, which offers a simple online tool for participants to track physical activity, create groups or teams, and earn points for staying active. Each day, RTCA staff use the PALA as a tool to motivate and inspire communities to take advantage of local parks, trails, and other nearby outdoor recreation venues. Walking, jogging, biking, swimming, and paddling were some of the favorite activities for RTCA staff and their local partners.

As they worked their way toward the PALA award, RTCA staff relied on each other for continued support and encouragement. Because RTCA offices are scattered across the country, we divided the staff into nine regional groups to foster a sense of teamwork among colleagues who rarely see each other. At the end of the summer, the RTCA as a whole was more active and fit than it was at the beginning of the summer. According to Ann O’Neill from the National Capital Region, “The PALA Challenge was the incentive I needed to get more active. As a result, I feel better, lost some weight and have more energy.”

Meanwhile, people in places where RTCA works learned about the power of the PALA to mobilize large groups of people to take action and commit to healthier lifestyles. With the recent release of PALA+, the RTCA has a new challenge for next summer!