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Texas is Home to the First Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties All-Star

The City of McAllen, Texas, home to 136,639 residents living along the U.S‐Mexico border, has been named the first-ever Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties (LMCTC) All-Star, the highest achievement for participants of LMCTC. McAllen, in partnership with residents, governmental organizations, non-profits, and small businesses, has made physical activity and healthy eating an integral part of the city’s fabric through the creation of a bike-share program, the adoption of city design guidelines that encourage walking and other forms of physical activity, the expansion of farmers markets, and the launch of a Kids Marathon.

LMCTC All-Stars

Developed and launched in response to the demand for more advanced and challenging activities, the All-Stars program invites LMCTC sites that have reached gold medal status in all five LMCTC goal areas to participate. All-Star candidates pursue four out of eight possible evidence-based policy strategies. When an All-Star candidate has completed their four strategies, they become an LMCTC All-Star; McAllen, Texas is the first-ever LMCTC site to accomplish this feat.

Becoming a Bicycle Friendly Community: The McAllen Bike Share Program

Starting a bike share program wasn’t always a popular idea among local elected officials in McAllen. Initially, some were skeptical that such a program could be effective in a place where everyone travels by car. But seeing the success of bike share programs in large metro areas around the world, city officials in McAllen ultimately decided to create their own program, the first of its kind in the Rio Grande Valley. Launched in October of 2015, the bike program includes 80 bikes and 8 stations throughout the community.

McAllen residents posing outside one of the eight stations of the new B-cycle program.

Just one year after its inception, over 9,000 riders have used the city’s bike share program as a means of transportation, physical activity or leisure, for a total of more than 60,000 miles. In addition to increasing physical activity among its citizens (totaling 2.4 million calories burned), the McAllen B-cycle program is also directly responsible for improving environmental health, offsetting carbon emissions by an estimated 56,000 lbs. Additionally, the City of McAllen has equipped all city buses with storage space for bicycles and implemented more vehicle “slow zones” around trails and parks to encourage more active transportation, keeping their newly gained momentum around health and wellness moving forward.

One of the 8 stations of the McAllen B-Cycle Program

Promoting Physical Activity: The McAllen Marathon and Kids Marathon

To raise awareness about the importance of active living, the City created the annual McAllen Marathon in 2013. The marathon course was purposely designed to include parts of the McAllen hike and bike trails, which city officials say has been a great way to help market the more than 40 miles of newly created space designated for physical activity.

McAllen also sponsors an annual Kids Marathon, which features a free kickoff event to encourage and inspire children to exercise. The kickoff event encourages children to run (or walk) their first of 26.2 miles, which they log over the following 11 weeks at home and in PE class. At the end of the 11 weeks, children participate in the Final Mile event (which is held the day before the McAllen Marathon) where they receive a medal for their accomplishments.

The inaugural event in 2014 was met with overwhelming excitement, with over 5,500 children and parents attending. Anthony Robles, who become an NCAA wrestling champion despite being born with just one leg, served as the primary speaker for the event. The Kids Marathon is now held annually at the newly renovated McAllen Sports Park, and is paired with McAllen Independent School District’s Let's Move! Pep Rally. Check out the video of their awesome 2016 kickoff event here!

Several thousand children start their Final Mile run during the McAllen Kids Marathon at the McAllen Sports Park in 2015.

Increasing Healthy Food Access for All

Realizing that active living is just one piece of the health promotion puzzle, the City of McAllen has also adopted policy and programmatic changes to increase access to healthy, affordable foods. For example, the City of McAllen has expanded access to farmers markets, partnering with the McAllen Public Library in an effort to encourage the sustainable production and economic benefits of locally grown agricultural products. The McAllen Farmers Market provides consumers with opportunities to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, other food products, and locally created artisan craft goods. Additionally, the McAllen Farmers Market educates their residents on the benefits of eating healthy through cooking demonstrations and student presentations, which have created a center for community engagement.

Lead by Example

Jim Darling, the mayor of McAllen, Texas, has become a champion of these issues, famously riding his bike onto the stage before giving his “State of the City” address, in addition to releasing his McAllen running tour video that promoted the newly created McAllen hike and bike trails.

Mayor Darling

Mayor Darling arrives on his bike at the McAllen “State of the City” Address.

“Being designated an LMCTC All-Star is an honor and is proof that the programs and partnerships the city has in place are making a positive impact on the community,” said McAllen Mayor Jim Darling. “Events such as the Kids Marathon along with B-cycle, our bike share program and various parks and recreation programs put health and fitness at the forefront for our citizens.”

Since 2005, the National League of Cities has supported municipal leadership to prevent childhood obesity through site-level technical assistance, opportunities for peer learning and exchange, and dissemination of promising practices, working with over 500 sites during that timeframe; McAllen, Texas sticks out as one of the most dedicated. Through its completion of the LMCTC All-Stars program, McAllen has shown us that it is a community ready for change. A healthy atmosphere has been created, and the city residents have bought in. While the McAllen B-cycle program, in addition to the rise of farmers markets and school slow zones, have been very successful, the work has only just begun for the city.

Learn more about McAllen’s efforts and some of their lessons learned here.

Learn more about Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties here