Step it Up with walks through nature

It’s been a long, cold winter. 

Maybe you hid from the nasty weather inside your home, under a blanket on the couch. 

It’s OK. Spring is finally here. It’s time to head outside to get some exercise. 

Ottawa County’s Step it Up program is encouraging area residents to take to the parks — on their own or as part of one of the county’s organized group outings — and enjoy nature while being active.

“It really is for everyone,” says Jessica VanGinhoven, interim coordinator of interpretive services for Ottawa County Parks and Recreation. “We have a lot of folks who just don’t consider themselves parks people or hikers or outdoorsy people or maybe they’re not in the shape they want to be in — we want you to come out.”

Find out more information and sign up for free at it Up group walks are social events as well as a physical challenge.

Weekly prizes

Those who track their progress at the website are eligible for weekly prizes — Ottawa County Parks and Recreation gift certificates good for merchandise, parking passes or programming.

Any intentional physical activity can count toward weekly progress — working out at the gym, walking around the subdivision with neighbors, playing softball in the neighborhood park. All participants have to do is record whatever the activity was and how long they did it.

Judgment-free zone

“It’s a judgment-free zone,” VanGinhoven says. “We want all abilities, all ages to come out and enjoy the benefits of moving and of moving outside.”

Participants will receive reminder emails with physical and mental health tips, healthy eating ideas, and encouragement in setting and meeting their personal goals.

The county also partners with area businesses and nonprofits. Any organization that would like to encourage members or employees to get outside and get walking is encouraged to partner with the county by contacting Amy Sheele at


The activities are free. Most don’t require registration. The first event is a group walk at 7 p.m. Monday, April 11, at Hemlock Crossing Park (8115 West Olive Road).

The group walks will explore a variety of county parks Ottawa and surrounding counties with the help of a naturalist. In addition to the group walks, the program will also have orienteering and kayaking events (also free, but advanced registration is required).

“Of course any time people can add getting outside to their routine, it’s good,” VanGinhoven says.
The Step it Up fitness challenge has had about 1,000 participants each year since it started in 2016.
Explore together or alone

The program allows people to get outside their comfort zone a little — to explore places they might not have visited otherwise — but to do so with the comfort of a guide.

“We designed it with a parks newbie in mind,” VanGinhoven says.

The program is funded through a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant and is done in collaboration with the county’s health department. Since its inception in 2016, Step it Up has had about 1,000 participants each year.

Families are encouraged to participate together.

“We bet you’ll keep doing it,” VanGinhoven says.
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Read more articles by Andrea Goodell.