by Fionnuala Quinn, Associate, Alta Planning + Design
Every so often, a photo will pop up in my email inbox of a trail sign written in Irish (Gaelic) accompanied by a request to translate. The photo will show the phrase ‘Slí na Sláinte’ on a distinctive yellow sign, often affixed to a blue pole.
It’s a welcome distraction to explain that the wording means ‘the path to health’ and then fill the sender in about the great Irish initiative behind the signs.
Slí na Sláinte is a home-grown program of the Irish Heart Foundation, dating back to 1996 and now found in at least ten countries outside of Ireland. Of all the outdoor activities, recreational walking is by far the most popular Irish pastime. Slí na Sláinte was established to further encourage walking and increase the number of Irish people getting out and enjoying their communities and countryside. The Irish Heart Foundation teams with local community organizations and develops signed walking routes while also providing leader training programs and other guidance. There are over 190 Slí na Sláinte routes now in place all over Ireland: https://www.irishheart.ie/iopen24/walking-routes-t-210.html.
Slí na Sláinte routes are designed to be a readily accessible and low-cost exercise option for walkers of all ages and a wide range of abilities. The cheerful signs and poles are placed at regular one-kilometer (0.6 mile) intervals along each established route so that walkers can keep track of distance covered and their progress over time. The signs are not numbered with the idea of encouraging walkers to start and finish at whatever point they like. Trained walking leaders lead walks in their area, and run time and distance challenges to help people achieve awards when targets are met. Basic maps show the routes and points of interest and include a few healthy walking encouragement tips: http://www.irishheart.ie/media/pub/slinaslainte/maps/sligo_sli_map_june_09.jpg.
Through this simple and straightforward concept, communities find that they can readily create a simple and accessible walking motivational facility for everybody, young and old. Research on Slí na Sláinte in Ireland and other countries has shown that people who use the routes find the signs helpful and motivating. The program is a widely adaptable model that can lead to an increase in activity levels. Sláinte (To health)