Chilliwack Walks and the 8 Walks in 8 Weeks Challenge is back.
Starting July 3, local residents can once again take time out on Tuesday evenings to explore their community on foot while racking up physical-and mental-health benefits.
Now in its sixth year, the free summer walking program attracts people of all ages and fitness levels throughout July and August.
Walkers meet at a different location around town each week and take on their choice of a long walk of up to five kilometres or a shorter two-kilometre walk.
Picked to highlight points of interest around town, like historic Downtown Chilliwack and the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve, the routes are a great way for local folks to learn about their city.
"I select the routes to let people know a little bit more about what's in their community in each of these areas, whether that's local farms or parks or rec centres or trails," said Chilliwack Family YMCA health and fitness manager Andrea Gieselman.
Last year a total of 905 walkers participated, and Gielselman said she's happy to see more young families come out every year.
"Just developing healthy habits earlier on is really cool, doing activities together that are physically active as a family is going to instill healthy habits later into life," she said. "From the health and fitness perspective it's super important to start building those behaviours as early as possible."
To sweeten the pot, walkers who complete the 8 Walks in 8 Weeks Challenge can enter to win memberships and passes from the Y, Parks and Recreation and the Cheam and Landing Leisure Centres.
Because the challenge runs on an honour system, participants who miss scheduled walks can make up the routes on their own time.
The idea for Chilliwack Walks originally came from the Active Communities committee, which formed in response to a 2004 initiative by the provincial government to increase physical activity levels in B.C. by 20 per cent by 2010.
Every year the initiative is supported by a partnership between the Chilliwack Family YMCA, City of Chilliwack, Active Communities, Spirit of B.C, Leisure Recreation Group, Fraser Health and the Chilliwack Times.
Walking on a regular basis at a moderate pace has been shown to lower a person's risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes. The mental-health benefits are important as well.
For Gieselman those benefits are important, but she said the weekly summer walks have also become an important community-building activity over the last five years.
"Sometimes you get so preoccupied with your busy lives and your kids' busy lives that you forget to take time to learn a little more about what's in your community and interact with different demographics," she said. "It's a neat intergenerational walk. It's really cool to see returning people year to year, remembering each others' names."
? The first walk, at Fairfield Island on July 3, starts at Gwynne Vaughan Park. All walks start at 6: 45 p.m. and go ahead rain or shine. No special equipment is needed, only a decent pair of supportive shoes-no flip-flops or sandals. Walkers can pick up their Chilliwack Walks passports at the Y, the Landing or Cheam Leisure Centres, the city Parks and Recreation office at City Hall or the Chilliwack Times. For more information, visit www.chilliwack.com.