Boone County Rises in State Health Rankings

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COLUMBIA - On a sunny Saturday afternoon, you can count on seeing and hearing certain things at Stephens Lake Park.  Bike chains click past, water splashes, either from children on the west end of the lake or fish in the east end, and the sound of tennis shoes smacking the pavement in different cadences.  Birds, bugs, dogs and people fill the air with their voices.  

The park comes to life.

On Brenda Ln., across the street from the north end of the park, Cameron Marshall attaches the leash to his roommate's German shepherd, Zeke.  Like many other one-year old dogs, Zeke's full of life.

"You have to hold him back, especially around other dogs, because he just wants to play," Marshall said.  

Living as close to Stephens Lake Park as they do, Zeke and Cameron have plenty opportunities to utilize it.

"I used to walk my dogs around the block, and it's not quite the same," Marshall said.  "Being at the park, it's just more fun, more open."

"I'd say I'm more active here," Marshall continued.  "It's just because it's more convenient, so it's easier.  You don't really think about it."

Convenience also brings Chris Poeppelmeier and his daughter to the park.  They live near the Walnut Street daycare, just five minutes north of Stephens Lake Park.

"She plays on the playground at least once a week," Poeppelmeier said.  "It's convenient.  Especially picking her up, drive by it."

With people living so close to parks not only in Columbia, but Boone County, it may be keeping the population healthy.  According to The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a national study put together by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin, 48-percent of Boone County residents live within a half-mile of a park, the fourth-highest percentage of any county in Missouri.  The study ranks counties in all 50 states based on health factors such as clinical care, health behaviors and physical environment.  Data is collected from sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and National Center for Health Statistics.  Boone County tops the state in terms of health behaviors, in large part from the low amount of physical inactivity--21 percent in Boone County, the lowest in the state.  Overall, Boone County comes in as the sixth-healthiest county in the state in 2013.

"I do love it," Jeanne Lambson said, who lives near Albert Oakland Park and the Bear Creek Nature Trail.  "We'll walk the nature trail, we'll walk the park every morning with the dogs.  It's nice to have some place pretty to walk."

"A different attitude," Joyce Cage said of coming to the park with her 20-month old daughter Bellinda.  "Different environment, attitude from home environment."

Boone County has steadily risen in the health rankings since the Rankings & Roadmaps report began in 2010.  Boone County ranked thirteenth in 2010, then tenth in 2011, ninth in 2012 and finally sixth this year.