Coming In 2015: Outdoor Fitness Parks In Westport?

Four years ago in Tel Aviv, Vadim Mejerson looked out his hotel window. He saw what looked like a child’s playground — but it was filled with adults. They were all exercising, on equipment you’d find in a gym but adapted for outdoors.

You or I might think, “Hmmm … interesting.” Meyerson — a longtime Weston resident with a Ph.D. in exercise physiology, who helped Exxon and many other companies develop fitness centers for executives — thought: “Wow … opportunity!”

He and his son Adam — who’d seen the same sight, independently, on that trip to Israel — did some research. They learned the parks were open 24/7. Some were roofed. Some were linked by bike trails.

A fitlot park by the sea in Israel...

A Fitlot park by the sea in Israel…

Vadim and Adam found that outdoor fitness parks were exploding in popularity around the world. England, Switzerland, Australia, Canada — everywhere, it seemed, governments and private sources were developing 1,000-square-foot areas where people could work out, get fit and socialize.

Everywhere — except the U.S.

Believing that every individual should enjoy the health benefits of parks like these, they formed a 501(c)(3) organization called FitLot. Partnering with neighborhood associations, and with funding from corporations, foundations and governments, it’s developing outdoor fitness parks throughout New Orleans.

That’s a perfect place for them. The city is burdened with obesity, diabetes and other health-related problems — but it’s also rebuilding itself, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

...and one in Europe.

…and one in Europe.

Now Mejerson wants to build facilities closer to home.

The other day he and 2 fellow enthusiasts — Steven Lewine and Rick Jaffe — talked about their vision for Westport.

“It’s free. It’s easy to access. It’s not an intimidating ‘gym environment,’ so it appeals to everyone,” Lewine said.

They ticked off potential spots for outdoor fitness parks: Compo Beach. Luciano Park, near the train station. The Y. The library. The Senior Center. Winslow Park. Baron’s South. The front lawn of Town Hall. Mini-parks, like Grace Salmon on Imperial Avenue.

They also like Sherwood Island. Connected by bike trails, they say, the fitness parks would be a way of tying the town together with the state park in our midst.

A roof may be necessary for a Westport outdoor fitness park.

A roof may be necessary for a Westport outdoor fitness park.

They know there are obstacles. Compo Beach is in the early stages of a renovation project. Winslow Park has been deemed “open space.” Bike paths are tough to build and maintain.

Still, the 3 men have had preliminary discussions with town officials, including 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Parks and Recreation Department director Stuart McCarthy, and Parks and Rec Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh. The talks were “constructive and productive,” Lewine says.

The cost of an outdoor fitness center is no more than $100,000 — 10% of the cost of an indoor facility, Jaffe says.

“It’s inexpensive, it’s public, it’s a beautiful concept,” notes Mejerson. “There’s no downside.”

Westporters embrace physical fitness.

Westporters embrace physical fitness.

“We think the community would welcome this gift with open arms,” Lewine adds. (It would be a “gift” thanks to corporate or private sponsorship.) “Westport is an enlightened town that considers physical fitness to be an important value.”

The big problem, the outdoor parks advocates know, is finding the right space(s), then gaining public support.

In Israel, Mejerson says, outdoor fitness parks are everywhere: hospitals, schools, prisons, gas stations, eldercare facilities.

Will one or more rise in Westport? If so, where? Click “Comments” to weigh in.




29 responses to “Coming In 2015: Outdoor Fitness Parks In Westport?

  1. Don Willmott

    You know where there is a lot of this equipment? Beijing. I think that prior to the 2008 Olympics the city government installed it as a way to drum up interest in athletics. Now it’s common to see senior citizens diligently working out as a supplement to their tai chi and outdoor ballroom dancing practice.

  2. Brilliant idea…. Another take on this can be following what they do in Hong Kong. Instead of a large area with lots of equipment, excersise equipment is scattered along existing walking trails and bike paths. This allows people not to feel overwhelmed and also takes away the need for asking Zoning to have issues with dedicating large areas for these projects. The equipment looks like sculptures…..just like on Bowen Road in HK

  3. Dana McCreesh

    I have seen this in new canaan @ waveny & in hk as aarti mentioned. great idea. I know people wanted to bring this to Fairfield, but not sure any traction was gained. a man called chris gombos was looking into it. i’ll send him your post.

  4. Lynda Abshire

    I’d rather just look at natural beauty along the shore. I do not find these parks beautiful.   Lynda Abshire2 Judy Point LnWestport CT 06880575-640-1299 cell203-454-2802 home

  5. I believe in the shadow of Yankee Stadium… There is an adult playground of fitness…. .i also recall over the years parks in our area and at one point in Westport there were fitness stations to to do exercise… Each station specified an activity….. If Westport is looking for a place to put one why not piggy back them to current playgrounds and recreation locations

  6. Beth Berkowitz

    I think it’s a wonderful idea! I would love t see it at compo beach and near the train station. I think putting it in Winslow park would not be as good because a lot of dogs would use it, since they are off lease, as a fire hydrant.

    I think parking may be an issue for some of the locations though. Which is why I think the train station and compo may be the best locations as residents are already parking there. Compo would be great since many people already use the area for exercising, by walking and riding bikes, swimming and stretching.

    Sherwood island would be good for parking, but on weekends, most of the visitors are not town residents, many are bussed there from outside of Connecticut even, so during the summer months, especially on weekends it may be used and crowded by out of towners.

    This is a wonderful idea and I hope they are able to do this! Thanks!

  7. Matthew Mandell

    These are cool. The Compo beach improvement sub committee had these discussed and should have been in their plan. The developers of the Senior housing at Barons were also on board with making something like this happen.

    FYI – the Y property is not accessible to the public. All other suggestions listed are town land and public.

  8. Nick Thiemann

    There have been low maintenance exercise stations located at Doubleday field for the past twenty years. I have never seen them used.

    • Beth Berkowitz

      Where is the Doubleday property? Maybe not used because not where everyone knows it is there?

      • Doubleday is the athletic complex behind Saugatuck Elementary School (the old Bedford Junior High on Riverside Avenue). I think the “exercise stations” are parkour stations — markers that indicate where someone could jump, step up onto a low platform, etc. Lack of use could be because no one knows they’re there. (I’m just speculating…)

        • Beth Berkowitz

          Oh ok. Thanks I didn’t know. Also, could be no one is allowed on the athletic fields and courts whenever school is in session. And many parents work out when kids are in school.

  9. If they are too popular, how do you assign priorities when they are all in use? Time, how long, who’s next, etc.

  10. Merry Hampton

    excellent idea! I would love this.

    • Eric William Buchroeder 'SHS '70

      Does loving this include using it? Or is it just another “must have” for the town that we thought had everything?

  11. Longshore might be a great location; the tented variety, close to the pool, would probably draw some folk of many ages.

  12. Doris Levinson

    I think it’s a wonderful idea. I saw adult exercise parks in a couple of cities in Turkey. They weren’t covered.

  13. I could go either way on this (prefer naturescape but can see how others might enjoy working out on this equipment). My main concern, other than cost, would be materials: I hope we’d be smart, for example, and avoid synthetic turf, as crumb rubber is now implicated in soccer goalie lymphomas (among other things).

  14. Sharon Paulsen

    Something like this might work well at the Housatonic Rail-Trail in Trumbull, a.k.a., the Pequonnock Valley Greenway. It’s a wide and flat trail that overlooks the river, about 3.4 miles long. It’s always busy with walkers, bikers, runners. Individual stations set up along this path would probably be very successful. My husband and I use this trail often.

    • I agree, Sharon! Thanks for mentioning that. Who can we call in the Town of Trumbull to discuss this with them?

      • Sharon Paulsen

        Vadim, glad you like the idea! I unfortunately do not have a contact name for you in Trumbull, but in addition to checking out the town website, you may also find contacts via Rails-to-Trails that would have a tie-in to the town employees, perhaps involved with parks and recreation.

  15. Generally speaking, most of our parks in Westport are in a state of managed decline. Given the present maintenance culture, I would not be especially enthusiastic about the care and feeding such equipment would likely receive. I suspect a lot of residents would be shocked if they ever learned the true extent of the public realm maintenance challenges that we face.

  16. Sandy Soennichsen

    I agree with you Morley, but you said it nicer (in a state of managed decline). I call it more like almost lack of maintenance. We seem to let things just get run in to the ground. So that’s my first concern. And of course Parks & Rec is going to keep the areas clear and clean, get rid of the snow and ice, repair the equipment???? Secondly, what is the town’s liability in case someone gets hurt using the equipment. You know the first comments to come out of our entitled citizens mouths is usually “I’m going to sue.”

  17. Westporters are, have always been, quite fit. It’s the nature of the place.
    This idea seems non-essential.

  18. Peter Flatow

    Personally I think this is a great idea but what comes to mind was the “process” to get the playground built for OUR CHILDREN and my head hurts.

    • Absolutely true, Peter.I thought of that too. For those who were not around: in the mid-1980s there was intense opposition to building the playground at Compo Beach. Among the arguments: It was too intrusive, would ruin the vista, lower property values, would attract hordes of out-of-towners, would attract teenagers who would hang out/do drugs/drink/have sex/drive away little kids, and it was just the wrong place for it.

      Now, it’s an established and very popular part of the beach. And many of the people who opposed it now make it the first stop when they give out-of-town guests the grand tour of Westport.

  19. David M Gusitsch

    Thanks for sharing this Dan! This is a great example of another opportunity to promote fitness for those who choose to exercise in what same may call a non-traditional or hybrid fashion. It may not be “for everyone”, but for those who are inspired to workout in this manner, it could serve a great purpose.

    I have worked in Westport for more than a dozen years and have always enjoyed, appreciated, and been impressed with the dedication that the residents have for fitness and wellness. I believe this was a factor in the schools earning a federally funded Carol M. White PEP (Physical Education Program) Grant for the years of 2013 – 2016. The program was titled the “Westport Wellness Initiative” because the hope is to expand positive lifetime wellness thoughts, ideas, activities, practices, etc. not only in the schools, but throughout the community. In addition to all that Westport has to offer, this fits nicely with that concept.

    Dave Gusitsch
    WPS K-12 Coordinator for Physical Education and Health

    PS – for tips on healthy living and/or the benefits of movement in learning, please feel free to follow us on Twitter @WstprtWellness

  20. George Jamison

    What a great idea. I say let’s do this!