- Associated Press - Saturday, August 22, 2015

PONCHATOULA, La. (AP) - Ponchatoula is moving forward with a project to provide free access to outdoor exercise and fitness opportunities that would ordinarily be found inside commercial exercise centers.

The Ponchatoula Wellness Plaza, to be located at the northwest corner of Kiwanis Park, would connect with the park’s existing one-half mile walking path to form a complete exercise unit for adults to engage in therapeutic fitness and balance exercises.

The centerpiece of the plaza, a Jungle Gym of sorts, will include 18 lower and upper body exercises to encourage adults to keep moving, which will lengthen, strengthen and enhance the quality of their lives. The Jungle Gym includes a balance beam, stair walk, rope bridge and rope course.

The estimated cost of $45,000 also includes landscaping, a gazebo and benches as well as two inches of rubber surface coating. The project will be funded through donations by “Partners,” in addition to using city revenue, according to Kim Howes Zabbia who is planning and promoting the project with the mayor’s Executive Assistant Rhonda Sheridan and Mayor Bob Zabbia.

This would be only the second of its kind in the nation, she said.

Partners who have already signed on are North Oaks Regional Medical Center, Cypress Pointe Hospital, Acadian Cypress and Middendorf’s Seafood Restaurant at Manchac, along with a couple of anonymous donors.

Kim Zabbia said the idea was submitted to her by Diana Pilcher of Ponchatoula, who told her it is a popular exercise concept in Europe.

Citizens age 50 and up comprise about 29 percent of Ponchatoula’s population, Sheridan said.

“At about age 50, most people start having trouble with their balance, so this exercise program will be of major benefit to them,” Zabbia said. “The Jungle Gym will help our adults improve their balance, thus building confidence, which in turn will prevent falls and hospital stays, and assist them in performing everyday life activities.”

People who have had heart surgery or joint replacement and who wish to continue their own rehabilitation would find the Motion Wellness System beneficial, Sheridan said.

Specially designed benches, which like the exercise equipment will be temperature neutral, will be situated along the perimeter of the plaza and just outside the path opposite the plaza areas for those who wish to watch the proceedings before participating. The benches will also allow participants to rest, socialize and interact with each other.

“The entire Wellness Plaza, which will be open 24/7, will be lighted for safety and after dark use,” Sheridan said.

An attractive gazebo, along with tasteful landscaping, will enhance the plaza area.

A big benefit of the Wellness Plaza is the potential for socializing among users, especially those 50 and older citizens who want to get out and meet people, Zabbia said. Signs would be erected on U.S. 51 and Hwy 22 directing the public to the park.

The plaza is to be constructed near the intersection of West Magnolia and South Seventh streets in the area of the park where the former tennis courts were located.

Mayor Zabbia said serious consideration is being given to constructing public restrooms at the location, along with water fountains. Picnic tables will be included to make it a true multipurpose plaza, he said.

All the equipment is weather resistant.

The mayor says consideration is also being given to converting the former pumping station at Kiwanis Park into an open air pavilion. That location in the park also has the potential for another restroom, Zabbia said.

Phase II of the Wellness plan includes the addition of what Zabbia calls Boomer equipment (different types of exercise and stretching equipment) installed at intervals of about 500 feet along the existing walking path which is now one of the city’s most heavily used recreation facilities.

The Wellness Plaza and enhanced walking path at Kiwanis Park are the first and second phases of a three-phase wellness plan.

Phase III would be a second jungle gym for adults on the Community Center grounds to form a community center park.

Different levels of partnerships are available to help the city fund specific elements of the Wellness Plaza. For instance, a $5,000 partnership would fund the asphalt surrounding the plaza or the landscaping and enhancement materials.

In just the past two weeks, $15,000 in donations have been received.

Sheridan said construction of the Wellness Plaza could get underway by about October.

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Information from: The Daily Star, https://www.hammondstar.com


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