From 1804 to 1868, Milledgeville proudly served as Georgia’s capital, and many remnants of that era, such as the Old Governor’s Mansion, can still be seen today. Far less grand, however, are some of the signs of modern times: a community divided by major state highways, rising unemployment and deteriorating neighborhoods.
The increasing poverty has sapped the health of residents, including the children who live in this largely White and African-American city of less than 20,000. Milledgeville is the seat of rural Baldwin County, which occupies the geographic center of the state, and childhood obesity is rampant in both city and county. One study found that among the county’s third-graders, 62 percent of boys and 51 percent of girls were overweight or obese.
The Center for Health and Social Issues at Georgia College & State University aims to change the downward health spiral with a project funded through Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities. The center is leading a partnership that intends to turn Milledgeville and Baldwin County into a place where children and adults can easily bike, walk and find affordable, nutritious food. The project’s name is also its goal: Live Healthy Baldwin.
The county has made progress in recent years in adding trails and sports fields to established recreation areas. In Milledgeville, a downtown streetscape renovation includes a farmers’ market that is nearing the end of a successful first season.
Yet both face some sizeable challenges. The city has no public transportation, and six of its seven schools are clustered together and cut off from residential areas by a trio of busy highways. Many children simply can’t walk or bike to school safely. The project wants to circumvent the problem by completing a nine-mile bicycle/pedestrian trail that will travel east to west, running underneath the high-speed roadways and connecting neighborhoods to the schools.
“If we can establish that trail along Fishing Creek, we’ll have an ‘underground’ path that kids can use to get safely to school,” project director Jim Lidstone said.
A second goal is to boost access to healthy food in low-income neighborhoods. The initiative will use master gardeners to develop several vegetable gardens around the city. Students will help plant and harvest the crop, which will be provided to after-school programs for healthy snacks.
The project plans to draw upon the enthusiasm of volunteers who have already established one such garden in an at-risk neighborhood. “They’re out there every Saturday morning transforming this old school property,” Lidstone said. “It’s amazing to see the progress that has been made in a short time.”
Important participants in Live Healthy Baldwin are the college’s Civic Agency Project, the Oconee River Greenway Authority and the Milledgeville Community Garden Association. They and other partners will tap the city’s assets, which include strong local support, to build and sustain the project’s vision.
As Lidstone explained, “We want to transform Milledgeville into a community where making the right choice is the easy choice.”