ST. JOSEPH — The St. Joseph-Lincoln Senior Center works hard to keep pace with the needs of its members, and its latest step forward is the opening of the Priscilla Upton Byrns Walking Trail.
It’s part of a $600,000 outdoor expansion at the center at 3271 Lincoln Ave., that includes the Betty Kohn outdoor fitness center, which opened a year ago, and additional parking.
Cindi McLaughlin, executive director of the center, said the one-sixth-mile, wheelchair-accessible trail was named for the longtime a supporter of the program, who died last year.
“It was something she was passionate about,” McLaughlin said. “She had beautiful gardens and flowers and enjoyed being outside.”
The fitness areas are open to the public, not just members, and already they have seen kids on bikes and mothers pushing strollers along the paved walkway.
The trail project was launched in June 2018 with a $10,000 donation from Lakeland Health and contributions from Byrns’ children. A $50,000 grant was received from the Frederick S. Upton Foundation, along with a $25,000 matching challenge grant. The senior center surpassed that goal, raising more than $40,000 through members who purchased picnic tables, benches and landscaping.
In all, $142,000 was received for the trail, providing a surplus for additional landscaping for the spring and money for maintenance. The fitness additions were all paid for through donations, and no general fund money was used.
They had hoped to have the trail completed by summer, but the wet spring delayed construction. The paths were completed around mid-September, and trees were planted about a week later.
Working from a plan created by Abonmarche consultants, the project was greatly aided by volunteers who called themselves “The Late Blooming Landscapers.” They put in hundreds of hours going over the plans, putting in greenery, watering the plants and keep the property clean, McLaughlin said.
“And they’re bound and determined to keep it neat and clean,” McLaughlin said.
“We’re glad to see people start to use it,” said Len Casario, one of the landscaping volunteers. “More and more people are finding out about it.”
He hopes that people who come out to walk find out more about what the senior center offers.
The goal is to help members be more active and live healthier lives, McLaughlin said.
Last month was National Senior Center Month, and the theme was “The Key to Aging Well.”
The members of the St. Joseph center told staff that they thought exercise was an important element, along with having options for fitness.
Along with the trail, the Kohn fitness center provides 12 exercise stations that can be used by 24 people at a time. This also is available to all residents. People can scan their phones at each station to see a video demonstrating the correct way of using the equipment.
McLaughlin sees the demand for senior activities growing. The center has seen a 17 percent boost in membership in the last year, with an average 80 new members signing up every month. Some days they see as many as 240 to 300 people coming through the doors.
The director believes this is due to the aging baby boomers and their desire for opportunities to keep busy and socialize. Along with that, the services are free, she added (each of Berrien County’s seven centers is supported by tax dollars and receives around $300,000 a year). Membership is open to those 60 and older, and their spouses.
The growth is part of a statewide trend. McLaughlin said that the Michigan Association of Senior Centers reported that, over the next decade, the state will have more people over 55 than any other state.
The St. Joseph center is flourishing under its board and a slate of 184 volunteers, McLaughlin said. They will be looking for volunteers next spring to complete and maintain the landscaping. Orders are being taken for flowers and plants to be placed on the grounds.
They are planning on having a ribbon-cutting next year, when Byrns’ children can attend.
For information on all programs and activities, visit www.sjlsc.org.
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak