Doctors in Wenatchee have been passing out some unusual prescriptions lately – not pills, but mountain hikes. It’s called the Foothills Hiking Challenge.
It might sound strange to people who get REI’s catalog dumped through their mail slot, but many people just don’t know what to do with the outdoors: What shoes to wear, where to go, what to bring, how to pack it out and how to avoid ticks and snakes.
Marlen Mendez is takes me through a trail into the deep woods. It’s hard to believe we’re just steps away from a row of suburban homes in Wenatchee.
"This is one of the most widely used trails in the Wenatchee Valley, and it’s called Saddle Rock," she says.
Mendez is an outreach manager for Columbia Valley Community Health. The health center provides care to everyone, but particularly underserved and underinsured populations like migrant farm workers.
Mendez says a large percentage of the center’s clientele is Latino. This demographic is especially vulnerable to diabetes and obesity. Diet and exercise can help. That’s why the docs here are busting out prescriptions for mountain hikes.
"It’s just getting that awareness out, that you can exercise, its free and it’s right in your backyard," Mendez says
The program is now in its second year. And Mendez says they are already seeing changes on the trails.
"You definitely see a lot more younger families using the trails," she says. "Today, a lot more Latino families that are out there. Hiking is a family sort of thing to do."
In fact, as we huff up a steep grade, two young Latina women skitter their way down.
We hear laughter and crunching gravel.
"I like coming up here," says Kimberly Carrillo, 19. "This is my first time this year, but I’ve came a lot of times."
But for her friend Lily Esuivel, it’s a first.
"It’s tiring, but it’s good, a good workout," says Esuivel, who looks a bit out of breath.
Moments later, Bob Bugert walks up the trail to meet us under a scaly-barked pine. He heads the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust.
"This is the culmination of many years of work by the Land Trust," Bugert says.
Bugert guided the nonprofit campaign to preserve these 3,000 acres of foothills, right outside Wenatchee’s urban core. His group partnered with Columbia Valley Community Health to help get novice hikers out on the trails.
"It’s folks that really don’t have the means to get out into the backcountry, they can get out into these areas, to be with nature, to be with each other," Bugert says.
His dream is to secure enough wild land that no matter where people live around Wenatchee they’ll be 10 minutes from home to trailhead. And he’s welcoming the next series of hikes for health. That starts in September and October. Doctors: ready your pens.