The jogging track circling Los Angeles' Evergreen Cemetery has transformed a hard concrete sidewalk into an invitation to walk or run on a soft-surfaced path in an area that had little open space or parkland before.
When it opened in 2003, it was a pioneering 1.4 miles of human-scale innovation that helped persuade the public health world that small improvements in the built environment can have an outsized benefit for public health.
Today, the Evergreen path hosts thousands of runners and walkers each month. It's the model for a new path to be added around another graveyard a mile away at Calvary Cemetery also in Boyle Heights.
The Calvary Cemetery path will also have a rubberized surface that's easy on the feet, benches, shade trees and the sidewalk will be widened. The concrete now is narrow in spots because it's blocked by utility poles that people step into the street to bypass.
The Evergreen Cemetery Jogging Path will also get a facelift to smooth over pavement cracks and add exercise stations, more shade and benches. Metro, the big local transit agency, is building both projects as part of its Eastside Access Project to make it easier to walk, run or ride to Metro train stations east of downtown L.A. Los Angeles County is putting up the funds for the Calvary path.
The jogging paths are two examples of building healthy places, changes in the built environment that promote healthy habits. These can be small projects, sometimes funded by nonprofits or agencies that are not city and county parks departments.
Here are several more fitness gems to check out:
Dog agility course at Sepulveda Park
This was an Eagle Scout project by Conrad Rutherford of Scout Troop 307. He raised $3,000 and many volunteer hours from the community to add three agility courses to the existing dog park. There are jumps and hoops sized for small, medium and large dogs. And of course, while your dog is exercising, so are you.
Where: Sepulveda Basin Off-Leash Dog Park
17550 Victory Blvd.
Encino, CA 91406
The riverfront path along Valleyheart Drive used to run between scraggly oleander bushes on one side and the chain link fence along the concrete channelized L.A. River. The group Village Gardeners of the L.A. River persuaded the County Flood Control District to upgrade the landscaping with native plants, decorative fencing and soft decomposed granite underfoot. Today, the half-mile trail is a popular walking and running destination.
Where: North side of the L.A. River between Coldwater Canyon and Fulton avenues.
Bayshore Buoy Line
Bayshore Aquatic Park in Long Beach has always been a great place to swim protected from watercraft by floating markers. This year, the city added a line of buoys that mark off the distance every fifty yards. Nothing animates athletes like knowing how far they've gone, so this is like a step counter for your swim.
Where: Bayshore Aquatic Park
5415 E Ocean Blvd.
This tiny park in Historic Filipinotown is so local that the Los Angeles Neighborhood Trust built it without restrooms, assuming that folks can run home when nature calls. The parcel had been a popular neighborhood garden plot with a towering mural depicting Filipino-American heros.
The whole thing was at risk when the owners of the land defaulted on their taxes. The nonprofit trust stepped in, purchased the land, developed the small-scale park in collaboration with the community and deeded it to the city. The trust handles the maintenance of the park and for special events hauls in portable toilets.
Where: Unidad Park
1267 W. Temple St.
You might not consider a pop-up beer garden run by an advocacy group to be about fitness, but the Frog Spot is also an open air yoga studio on weekend mornings. Volunteers and REI-sponsored fitness instructors lead the sessions, including a Sunday morning mindfulness session. They have occasional bike repair classes, and walkers and cyclists are welcome to just hang out at the picnic tables.
Friends of the L.A. River rents the land, provides the live music, and sponsors provide the beer for sales (to ages 21 and up). You and your neighbors add the ambience.
Where: The Frog Spot is adjacent to the bike path on the west bank of the L.A. river south of Newell Street.
Correction: The group that helped create the Valleyheart Greenway path was mis-identified in an earlier version of this story.