Though it has some resemblance to one, it’s not a playground for adults: it’s an outdoor fitness park.
The new FitLot at Martin Luther King Park (271 Mackubin Street) and Hallie Q. Brown Center is approximately 1,400 square feet — a similar size to a playground structure.
It’s shaded and stands on a squishy safety surface made from 10,000 pounds of recycled tire rubber. The structure has both static and moveable fitness equipment for strength, cardio, balance, and flexibility training.
The new equipment is courtesy of AARP’s FitLot inItiative, which has placed a FitLot in every state (plus Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands), in honor of AARP’s 60th anniversary. The organization donated the 53 fitness parks over three years, including the one in Saint Paul, which was finished in 2021.
The organization has a longstanding commitment to fostering healthy habits, especially as people age. According to Cathy McLeer, state director of AARP Minnesota, “it’s also about making the community more livable: having opportunities to enjoy public spaces and have a place to go that isn’t expensive. You can come out at any time of day to use the equipment.”
Jonathan Palmer, executive director of Hallie Q. Brown Center, explained that his organization has been partnering with St. Paul Parks and Recreation since 1972, when the current community center and parks buildings opened. The addition of the FitLot, adjacent to the MLK Park playground, fits with their mission. “As we work to get healthier, as we work to support people especially coming out of the pandemic, we’re moving ahead, getting outdoors more,” Palmer said.
Adam Mejerson, executive director of the New Orleans-based nonprofit FitLot organization, commented on the beauty of the park’s setting. “I think it will be extremely well used, with the community center and the playground the wonderful bike paths.” He also credited the builders, Delano, Minnesota’s Landscape Structures, saying this was a hometown project for them. Landscape Structures also built the adjacent playground in MLK Park, along with all 53 of AARP’s FitLots.
After the ribbon-cutting, I talked to Mejerson about what it would take to get a FitLot in other parks. AARP covered the Rondo FitLot’s $189,000 cost of equipment and construction, with an additional $20,000 for three years of program management through St. Paul Parks. There’s a “Plan a FitLot” section on the organization’s website, which includes funding suggestions. I was particularly thinking of the new park in Westgate on the western edge of Saint Paul, which is right next to a new affordable senior rental building as well as a family-oriented affordable building.
“Our hope is it’s what every neighborhood should have,” Mejerson said.
There’s also a free eight-week series of classes, with one-hour circuit training (more info here).