On Friday, Nov. 15, Modesto A. Maidique Campus celebrated the grand opening of yet another outdoor recreation space for students, faculty and staff: the FIU Jogging Path, a lighted footpath that surrounds the FIU Nature Preserve.
“It truly is amazing how well this project has been integrated into nature and the community,” said Kenneth Jessell, senior vice president for finance and administration and CFO at FIU. “We have this beautiful jogging trail that will strengthen the body in so many ways. Our students will be better prepared, more able to do great things because of healthy living, healthy bodies and great faculty who will lead them along the way. I’m very, very proud of that integration.”
Jessell was among many who attended the ribbon cutting ceremony, including Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Lunsford, Director of Facilities Planning and Operations for Student Affairs Jim Wassenaar, Earth and Environment Professor Jack Parker, Biological Sciences Professor David Lee, Director of Recreation Services Robert Frye and FIU Nature Preserve Manager Ryan Vogel.
“Over the past several years, we’ve wanted to rejuvenate this area,” said Frye. “When Parkview Residence Hall was built, the University’s Office of Sustainability, Recreation Center and Housing all saw an opportunity to bring more traffic to the Nature Preserve and create a space for students, faculty and staff to exercise outdoors. The idea wasn’t to duplicate what you can already do inside.”
The FIU Jogging Path is 0.6 miles long and has six workout stations along the path. Made from approximately 5,640 recycled tires, the ground material offers pedestrians and joggers better traction and a softer surface that is better for feet, ankles and knees. In addition, the material is durable, able to withstand South Florida’s rainy season and strong sun.
“I wanted to make sure that when we delivered a jogging trail that it had more meaning than just a pathway,” said Wassenaar. “It was also an opportunity for us to demonstrate to our students and community our commitment to being sustainable and being a great campus.”
In the center of the Jogging Path lies the FIU Nature Preserve, 14-acres of Pine Rockland and Tropical Hardwood Hammocks ecosystems, South Florida’s natural habitat that existed long before FIU. This outdoor classroom hosts dozens of school groups each year to learn about this endangered habitat and its species. Being so close to Parkview Residence Hall, the university felt it was critical to incorporate the preserve into students’ daily lives.
“What we were really hoping to accomplish with this was to attract a completely different demographic of students and community members who initially weren’t interested in nature but were interested in exercise,” said Vogel. “We wanted to get them outdoors, experiencing nature and hopefully they can learn something about south Florida history.”
Vogel said the initial idea for a jogging path began in 2003 during a charette for the preserve between FIU architecture students and professional architects.
“They came up with a whole bunch of interesting ideas: trails, a jogging path, outdoor classroom space, an organic garden, event space, a lot of the things we have today. The other components happened slowly, the one outstanding part of the charette was the jogging path component.”
Vogel used the meetings about Parkview and the Preserve to suggest the jogging path idea again and slowly, people gained interest. The entities ultimately decided a the jogging path was a necessary component to the Parkview project.
However students at Parkview aren’t the only ones benefiting the FIU Jogging Path. Director Benefits Administration Evelyn Rodriguez saw the path as an opportunity for the university’s Wellness Initiative, attracting faculty and staff. In 2012, FIU was given a “Fit-Friendly Worksite” designation by the American Heart Association in recognition of its wellness programs that promote a healthy work environment.
“October was the first month we started walking,” said Rodriguez. “We dubbed it ‘Walk-tober Wednesdays with the goal of walking just 30 minutes. We met down by the fountain by PC and would walk around campus. But when Ryan told us the jogging path would be opening soon, we started using it right away.”
The Walking Club, organized by Rodriguez, has grown over the past few weeks from 5 people, now up to about 10 weekly. “We were worried people wouldn’t want to go 30 minutes and now, people want to keep walking,” she said.
Personal trainers, the FIU Run Club and student athletes are also using the FIU Jogging Path regularly. And there’s more unexpected users, too.
“I’m a jogger,” Lunsford admitted to the crowd at Friday’s opening ceremony. “It’s nice to be able to have this path right across from the Rec Center to be able to use during the day. Hopefully the path will attract more individuals who will come to jog and take a side trip into the preserve and take a look at what’s in there.”