Nearly 1,400 Montanans are taking the challenge this month to put down the car keys and find another way to get to work.
May 1 marked the first day of the 2017 Montana Commuter Challenge, encouraging those traveling to work or running errands to opt for foot power, a bike or bus ride. The annual challenge is sponsored by Bike-Walk Montana and PacificSource Health Plans and features a host of teams from across the state.
“It’s to try to encourage people to try a different way other than driving to get to work,” said Melinda Barnes, executive director of Bike-Walk. “It’s a fun competition and a way for coworkers to encourage others to try commuting by walking or by bike.”
Although local commuter challenges have occurred for longer, the statewide challenge is now in its third year.
With more than 270 teams from around Montana, teams are broken into tiers based on size of a private business or public agency. Commuters log trips with miles posted online and scores based on the percentage participating, meaning 10 people walking one mile score higher than one person walking 10 miles.
Not only do commuters get bragging rights and the physical and environmental benefits from the challenge, but winners receive gift certificates as well, Barnes said. Several Helena businesses also offer daily specials to those walking or biking, she added.
“We’d definitely like to see it continue to grow,” Barnes said. “We’d love to see more people try active commuting, get the health benefits, fewer cars on the road and less congestion and help the environment. Plus it’s just a great way to get to work.”
Helena and some of the other larger cities have historically seen good turnout for the challenge, she said, but getting smaller communities involved has been challenging.
Mary Ann George, library assistant at Helena College, has helped captain the school’s team for the last four or five years, she said, including local challenges that predate the statewide effort. One of her roles on campus is with the wellness program for employees and the campus in general, and the challenge is one way to be active.
“I’ve felt the commuter challenge encourages fellow employees to try another way to get to work,” she said. “For us it’s really just fun. When you look at our number of staff and boil it down to who is able to bike or walk, it’s a small number for our campus but it’s fun and healthy.”
Beth Shumate, trails program manager at Montana State Parks, is co-captain for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Helena team. FWP has three other teams competing in other parts of the state.
Shumate says she has captained or co-captained for several years.
“I feel that it’s very important to promote active transportation both from a health perspective and from an alternative transportation perspective,” she said.
The commuter challenge kicked off Monday but individuals or teams can still sign up and take part at any time, Barnes said.
More information is available at http://mtcommuterchallenge.org/.