With the onset of summer, outdoor activities and exercise are easier to do. Access to outdoor equipment, though, is not always available and often is limited to basketball and tennis courts.

The City of Ripley, with a grant through Coplin Health Systems, is changing that scenario. A new six-station outdoor exercise area has been added to Ripley City Park.

The one-time grant, funded through the Health Resources and Services Administrations (HRSA), provided $10,000 worth of equipment. This equipment, purchased through Outdoor Fitness, includes an elliptical machine, chest press, leg press, rower, sit-up bench, and ski walker.

According to Sarah Casseday, Director of Behavioral Health at Coplin, the mission of the grant is fairly simple.

“We just want to make exercise available to all individuals,” she said. “Since use of the equipment is free, that takes a major deterrent away. The machines are best suited for those 13-years-old through adult.”

Coplin Health Systems, which has nine locations in Wirt, Wood, Jackson Counties, and Meigs County, Ohio, dedicates itself to providing quality healthcare to communities it serves.

“We chose two counties for this project,” Casseday explained. “Wirt doesn’t have access to any gym facility in the county. So that was an easy choice. When we reached out to Jackson County, Mayor Carolyn Rader responded with such enthusiasm that we knew we’d found our second spot.”

Rader is very supportive of the project.

“I’m absolutely thrilled,” she said. “To be able to get something of this quality for free is such a gift to our city. The only thing we added was the rubber mulch and the labor. The mulch is made from recycled tires. We wanted soft padding.”

When speaking about the labor involved, Rader gives complete credit to Rob Winter who works for the city’s maintenance department.

“I couldn’t be more impressed with the work Robbie did on this,” she said. “He was able to figure out where everything should go to make it work efficiently.”

Winter, a 10-year employee of the city, said he started the job in mid-April.

“I had to figure the square footage into the radius of a circle,” he said. “That was the hardest part but Google came through.”

The next step, according to Winter, was to “lay it out, piece by piece.” Since not much direction was given, he said he had to ‘eyeball it.’

“Since we are in the midst of the COVID-19 situation, I had to figure in social distancing too,” he said. “Everything pretty much follows that guideline except for the one machine that allows two people side by side.”

Winter feels good about the job he was able to complete.

“This will really benefit the community,” he said. “All the equipment is well-made and should last for years.”

Jessica Coe, site director for Coplin Health and Casseday both say the spot chosen couldn’t be better.

“Being near the pool, the tennis courts, basketball court, and splash pad,” said Coe, “makes this the perfect spot.”

For Casseday, the potential impact for this equipment is endless.

“Physical health is directly related to mental health,” she said. “To be able to give people a positive coping strategy to the stresses we are facing today is priceless. We are so looking forward to seeing individuals using this space. To see the vision I had in my mind become a reality is very gratifying.”

As for the city, the mayor and Project Director Matt Anderson are already looking at ways to improve the area.

“We may move one of the picnic shelters down,” Anderson said. “And hand sanitizers may be installed. Signage still needs made too.”

The mayor is interested in all these ideas. But she is most focused on the benefit to the citizens. She sees the advantage for parents and their children to share in the activities at City Park.

“For families to spend quality, healthy time together is such a wonderful thing,” Rader said. “I am so appreciative Coplin thought to gift us with their generosity and kindness.”

Ripley City Park is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week.