Step aside, Victoria: Penticton’s trail-blazing citizens wanted that $10,000 more than you.
The city is celebrating this week after learning Penticton came out on top of the Healthy Families B.C. walking challenge for the population category from 25,001 to 100,000, held in September.
B.C. residents were invited to visit a website where they could post stories and pictures detailing their favourite walking or hiking trails. Six individuals would win a weekend getaway for four to a B.C. destination.
But each entry fell under the individual’s community, and a contest for municipal entries came with a big incentive: $10,000 for the community with the most entry postings to go toward trail building or maintenance.
Karen Burley, Penticton’s deputy corporate officer, said local enthusiasm for the contest picked up two weeks ago, when the city was randomly picked by the province to receive 100 pedometers. As she was filling out the forms to accept the prize, she began reading about the contest details and figured the Peach City had a good shot.
“One week prior to that, we only had 13 entries,” she recalled. “I said we need to do something.”
Burley contacted Bob Pope, a recreation co-ordinator who had recently overseen a successful walking program in town, to tap the community segment that had already embraced local trails.
Together, they tag-teamed contact lists to get the word out.
“Bob started doing email blasts. From the administration side, I sent an email to all the staff. I also emailed some people who have significant connections,” Burley said, adding organizations connected to the city like the Downtown Penticton Business Association, South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services and Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce,
“We started doing the rah-rah in the office. That’s when people would go up and ask, ‘Did you do your entry?’” she said. “From that initial blast, within a day, we took the lead. That got everyone really fired up.”
That wasn’t to say the entire path to the top was a cakewalk. Penticton’s population of just over 31,000 was a fraction of some communities in the same category taking part.
“We promoted it as David vs. Goliath,” Pope said, adding Penticton was up against Victoria, which draws walkers year round and has a population of 100,000. “It was really exciting to see us kick butt.”
The four other categories were also showing close races.
“Meanwhile, Tumbler Ridge and Horsefly were in a huge competition for those communities. So you never know who will come up from the rear,” Burley said, adding they began targeting additional invites to running clubs, hiking groups and other fitness-related organizations to encourage people to post entries.
And the contest became the official talk around municipal water coolers — with 75 entries coming in over the last weekend for the city’s final tally of 411.
“Everyone pulled together. It was amazing on Tuesday morning and people emailing me and phoning: ‘Did we win? Did we win?’” she said with a laugh. “But when we looked at the difference between the two communities, between us and Victoria, we figured we stood a very good chance.”
The contest closed at midnight on Sept. 20, and Burley was notified later that day. Penticton was joined by Tumbler Ridge, Quesnel, Esquimalt and Abbotsford as topping their respective population categories.
Burley said the postings from the community were also a pleasure to read. While many people offered short and sweet comments about their favourite trail, some went into great detail about the seasons along Skaha Lake, the bustle of downtown and the views along the Kettle Valley Rail Trail. Some even offered pictures of the view
“A walk along the channel seemed like a good idea. Well, here it is about 18 months later, and I’ve lost about 40 pounds, the dog can’t be happier and I feel like a million bucks. And I’ve worn out a couple pairs of shoes,” one resident wrote. “What a great feeling it is to walk along that channel, when there’s a bit of a breeze, the sky as blue as can be, and the temperature ideal.”
Burley said staff learned a lot in the experience. “It was a real morale booster and community incentive. Everybody participated to make it successful,” she said.
The five communities were entered to win a grand prize of $50,000 for local trails. The draw was scheduled to take place on Tuesday at 4 p.m.
“A one-in-five chance is pretty good. We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” Burley said, adding Penticton can feel proud of its $10,000 prize regardless.
“It’s just the power of what a community can do when they pull together.”