The Coast News Group
The Escondido City Council voted 5-0 on Nov. 6 to approve receipt of a $150,000 grant for what will be North County’s first free outdoor fitness court. File photo

Escondido gets grant to create first free area outdoor fitness center

ESCONDIDO — At its Nov. 6 meeting, City Council voted 5-0 to approve receipt of a $150,000 grant aiming to make the city home to North County’s first free outdoor “fitness court.”

The grant came from the National Fitness Campaign, a group which began in San Francisco in 1979 and has a “simple goal of encouraging healthy lifestyles,” according to its website. The city of Escondido aims to place such a facility at Mountain View Park, which is located on the city’s east side, and then eventually build four other such facilities at other city parks.

Joanna Axelrod, director of communications and community services for Escondido, said the National Fitness Campaign aims to bring in people of “all fitness levels” into the fold during her presentation about the grant.

“Even though this calisthenics-based fitness has been around since the ‘70s, we’re really seeing an uptick in its popularity because this type of workout is really accessible to people of all ages, all ability levels and all fitness levels,” said Axelrod. “I really love this type of recreational asset for our parks, as well, because it provides park users who aren’t engaged in organized athletic activity a chance to work on their fitness as well.”

Axelrod added that for parents present at the park for their kids’ sporting events, it also provides an easy chance to get in a workout, while also modeling healthy activity as a lifelong habit for their children.

According to the National Fitness Campaign, its first fitness courts opened in San Francisco and at Stanford University, getting off the ground due to a sponsorship from Wells Fargo Bank. Axelrod said she thinks that the prospective Escondido version could attract public-private partnerships from community businesses, including Kaiser Permanente — already a sponsor of the National Fitness Campaign — because the company already has a substantial health care industry footprint in San Diego County.

The documents for the City Council meeting show that each court costs $130,000 and would be “offset by sponsorships” obtained by the city. The grant will go toward $30,000 for each of the five courts for a total of $150,000.

Unlike a traditional gym, National Fitness Campaign features an equipment set-up based entirely around body weight-based movements and lifts. The fitness court would have 30 pieces of such equipment, enabling 28 users to work out simultaneously. It also has a smartphone app, providing exercisers with workouts and related tips and techniques.

After seeing a promotional movie about the fitness program, City Councilman John Masson joked and said he it “makes you want to go to some burpees.” Deputy Mayor Consuelo Martinez also expressed her excitement about the prospect of such a facility coming to the city.

“I had seen an outdoor gym, which is a little different than these, on my last trip to Detroit,” she said. “I’m really excited about it and I fully support it. I love the direction that you’re going with this because providing outdoor activities for everyone to exercise is so important and the best part is that it’s free and that we’ll have them throughout the city.”

But Councilwoman Olga Diaz advised that, while supportive of the plan, she thought the city should monitor how the park is currently used because it serves as a popular spot for community birthday parties.

“I just want to be mindful of where the fitness pad ends up being,” said Diaz. “Generally, that’s a birthday party area, so you might want to spend a few weekends just sending somebody out to observe that space. Maybe cordon it off for a while and see if you get any feedback.”

The first National Fitness Campaign fitness court in San Diego County opened in Imperial Beach in 2018. The National Fitness Campaign says on its website that it aims to have over 1,000 fitness court facilities nationwide by 2021.