I have received my first reward from the Healthy Parks Healthy Person app! I purchased this Healthy Parks Healthy Person t-shirt using the points I accumulated through this Tennessee State Parks program.
If you’re not already participating in this program, keep reading to learn more. And if you are already participating, keep reading for some exciting announcements about future developments!
Keep track of your activities with the HPHP app to earn rewards
The HPHP app allows anyone to track their physical activity, collect points for those activities, and then redeem them for rewards. The app is easy to use; you just click the “check in” button when you complete one of the activities listed. Currently, you can gain up to 10 points per day for walking, hiking, running, biking, swimming, paddling, playing a sport, or climbing.
Under the “rewards” tab of the app, you can see the prizes available for you to purchase. After you purchase a reward, the HPHP office will email you with instructions on how to get your prize. The prizes fall in two categories: 1) items you can use while exercising and 2) experiences in Tennessee State Parks. The exercise items include clothing, water bottles, a first-aid kit, or different packages such as items for pets, hiking, or enjoying a campfire. The Parks rewards include free meals at TSP restaurants and even free cabin stays.
Stacey Levine, the HPHP Program Administrator, says that the free cabin stays are extremely popular. She loads this reward into the app each quarter; when she last loaded cabin stays at the beginning of March, they sold out within days.
The cabin stays and free restaurant meals are limited because the HPHP program must pay for these rewards from their grant money, and they must stick to a budget. This is also the reason that a user’s points expire one year from the day the user earned them.
But don’t think you can only log the activities you do while on Tennessee State Park grounds; any physical activity you do counts whether it’s in a state park, city park, or even in your neighborhood. Levine explains, “We just want to have fun and encourage people and help people lead a better life through getting outdoors more.”
The HPHP program began as a way to encourage Tennesseans to get outdoors
Ryan Jenkins, Park Manager at Henry Horton State Park, started the Healthy Parks Healthy Person program in 2014. Instead of an app, users could get a special card stamped every time they completed a qualifying activity, and local businesses contributed the rewards.
Jenkins was inspired to start this program because he knew “there was a migration of people to the indoors and towards their screens.” He explains, “Overall, I knew there was a growing list of physical and mental health-related issues in Tennessee. I also knew that, as a park ranger, I held the key to a treatment that could benefit those people. I felt somewhat culpable or responsible if I did nothing about it. That is the true foundation from where Healthy Parks Healthy Person was born.” So after researching how people create new habits, he created the stamp card system with the idea that “[o]nce the participants begin to see the health benefits of being outdoors and begin falling in love with their parks, the rewards no longer become a driver of the activity and a healthy habit is created.”
In 2015, the Tennessee Department of Health awarded Jenkins a grant to turn his stamp card system into a web app. By switching to an app, it was easier for all Tennesseans to participate. Even though the app was only designed to host a few hundred users, by the end of 2019, over 3,000 people were participating in the program.
The end of 2019 was a big turning point for the program. Levine joined as Program Administrator, and the Tennessee Department of Health awarded the program an even larger grant to transform the web app into a dynamic app. This change meant that users do not have to be connected to Wi-Fi to use the app like they did with the web version.
The HPHP program is growing
In the spring of 2020, the dynamic app launched, and the number of users soared; over 10,000 people now use this app.
Levine attributes this growth to three causes. First, the switch to a dynamic app makes it easier for people to use it. Second, Levine believes that the pandemic played a role in attracting users. She notes, “COVID has really renewed a lot of people’s interest in or spurred new interests in getting outdoors...we’re really in the right place at the right time... because we’ve got all the growing pains and the infrastructure behind us, we’re kind of right here poised for growth right now while the renewed interest in getting outdoors is kind of hitting right now.” Finally, she attributes the app’s growth to their first marketing campaign to spread the word about the program.
In fact, marketing is a major focus for Levine this year; she wants to expand the app’s user base. She notes, “we’ve found our natural users are people who are already in the parks, and that’s great because we want to help them get into the parks more, or even find a new park, or try a new activity that maybe they wouldn’t have tried without our prompting, but we also know that it’s really, really important to get in front of the population who maybe isn’t a natural park-goer or somebody who naturally will just take time out of their day to get outdoors.” To accomplish this goal, Levine is focusing on marketing the program to different groups such as school systems and veterans.
She is also partnering with county health departments to spread the word about the program. Healthcare providers in these departments have HPHP prescription pads so if they feel their patient would benefit from increased outdoor physical activity, they can “prescribe” it with these pads. The patient can then enter their activity in the app, and the provider can see what activity the patient logs through a special portal. Also, the program is now included in the electronic medical records software that the county health departments use so the providers will be prompted to refer the program to patients.
As an additional enticement to join the program, Levine likes to add new rewards. Just this spring, she added a portable hammock, a HPHP sweatshirt, and a Nike Dri-Fit hat with the HPHP logo.
The HPHP team has planned many future developments
Levine and the Tennessee Department of Health are also working on new features for the app. One of these future developments is a database of all trails, greenways, waterways, and bike paths in Tennessee - like a Tennessee-specific version of AllTrails! This database will allow users to gain information about where they can have fun outdoors and will be an invaluable resource for all Tennesseans.
Other plans will make the app more user-friendly. These plans include allowing participants to see their user history and undo any purchases they accidentally make. Levine and the program’s partners hope to one day allow users to coordinate the app with their fitness trackers and hope to add gamification features such as allowing users to check in with a friend or even challenge a friend to earn extra points.
This year, users will be able to earn points for more activities. The program will add yoga, volunteering, golf, and horseback riding to the activities listed in the app.
Check it out for yourself! It is free for iPhone and Android users. You can search for “Healthy Parks TN” or you can head to the HPHP website to get a link and a QR code.
I know I enjoy logging my activities and watching my total points increase bringing me closer to one of those coveted cabin stays. Join in on the fun!