Patty Hamilton, Bangor’s public health director, found herself at a bit of a loss for words when she got a phone call last year from the AARP, asking her if the city would like a free, all-expenses paid outdoor fitness facility installed in Broadway Park.
“They called us and said, ‘Would you be interested in a fitness park for adults?’ and I said ‘Is this a trick question? The answer is, Yes, please,’” Hamilton said. “And I asked ‘Are there any costs?’ And they said ‘No. We pay for it all.’ And we all sort of went, ‘Wow.’”
As part of its 60th anniversary celebrations, the AARP this year and next will install 53 FitLots — permanent exercise equipment designed by Louisiana-based nonprofit FitLot — in all 50 states and in Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
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Bangor’s FitLot is just the fourth one to be installed, after installations earlier this year in Florida, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. AARP and FitLot worked with Bangor Parks & Recreation and Bangor Public Health to ready the site for the structure, which is located on the Pine Street side of Broadway Park, not far from the playground.
Bangor’s FitLot is also the first one to be installed by a team of local volunteers, who were on hand Tuesday to put the equipment into an already-poured concrete slab, which will later be covered by heavy-duty rubber pad made from thousands of pounds of recycled tires.
“I think this is an amazing way to raise the visibility of fitness in the city in general. We have such great parks and facilities, and great community organizations, and this is a really visible spot to highlight it,” Hamilton said.
Bangor was chosen to host Maine’s FitLot for several reasons. Bangor has one of the largest public park systems in Maine, with more than 1,000 acres of land ranging from neighborhood green spaces to the 650-acre Roland Perry City Forest. Also, several years ago, AARP designated Bangor as an age-friendly community, meaning that it offers walkable streets, housing and transportation options, and accessibility to services and community activities for aging residents.
“Bangor was one of the first age-friendly communities in the country, in fact,” said Lori Parham, executive director for AARP Maine. “Part of being age-friendly is making sure everybody has access to the outdoors, and to health and fitness facilities. This does both.”
Broadway Park specifically was chosen for its central location, close to both the Little City and Tree Streets neighborhoods, and for its close proximity to St. Joseph Hospital, John Bapst High School and other Bangor landmarks.
FitLot was co-founded by Adam Mejerson, the group’s executive director, who was on hand with AARP vice president for community engagement, Morie Smile, to help erect the structure Tuesday. Mejerson started FitLot in New Orleans, designing the initial structure and opening the first one in early 2017. After partnering with the AARP, Mejerson has been able to scale up his organization to a national level.
“This really started as a local thing in New Orleans, but we’ve been able to take what we’ve learned there and apply it to places all around the country,” Mejerson said.
The FitLot features 22 possible exercises on the structure’s various stations, with even more exercises possible if users connect resistance bands to various points on the beams. A canopy above the structure will help shade users on hot summer days. The structure complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act and can be used by people with multiple different levels of strength and mobility.
As part of AARP’s donation, the FitLot comes with three years of funding for regularly scheduled free classes led by fitness instructors for anyone who wants to learn how to use the equipment safely and effectively. A schedule of classes, to be organized by Bangor Parks & Recreation, will be released later this summer.
Aside from the promotion of fitness at all levels, the FitLot project also aims to reduce social isolation for aging populations.
“This is something that’s truly multigenerational. It’s not just about putting in a piece of equipment. It’s about building a community around it,” Parham said.
“It’s an incredible boon to the community,” Hamilton said. “It’s really a gift.”
A grand opening for Bangor’s Broadway Park FitLot is set for 10:30 a.m. Friday, July 12.