Healthy hometown

Published November 27, 2018

Nestled in the heart of South Dakota is Fort Pierre, the state’s oldest city with a population just over 2,000. 

While staying true to its small town charm and rich history Fort Pierre has a strong desire to be a city continuously making subtle environmental changes ensuring residents and visitors have resources to stay active and healthy. 

“Today, Fort Pierre is one of the few small cities in the area that is growing and thriving. World-class fishing, hunting and water recreational activities attract visitors and residents alike,” said Gloria Hanson, Fort Pierre mayor. “Health starts in our homes, schools, workplaces and communities and in Fort Pierre we are committed to creating a community that improves the overall well-being for all.”

Research shows that our surroundings can greatly influence health – including income, education, access to reliable transportation, nutritious food and places for physical activity.  These environmental conditions are called social determinants of health and they can be responsible for health inequities – the unfair and sometimes avoidable differences in health status. 

“We started with taking a look at our current environment and asking ourselves questions like, are our bike trails safe, are there enough places for families to buy fresh and healthy foods,” said Hanson.

Once they determined things needed to change and they couldn’t do it alone, Hanson sought out assistance from  Healthy HometownSM Powered by Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield (Wellmark), an initiative that helps communities change their environments and impact social behaviors. 

Healthy Hometown provides free consultations, along with proven tools and techniques that have shown to be effective in terms of creating healthier communities and individuals. The tactics are easy for communities and organizations to access and implement. 

In just a short time, Fort Pierre was able to make several notable achievements that recently earned them a 2018 Healthy Hometown Community Award:

  • Started a community garden with 24 raised beds, providing fresh produce to more than 150 senior nutrition program recipients and at least 80 other individuals.
  • Established a weekly farmers’ market with 30 vendors and 200-300 attendees each week.
  • Rehabilitated a trail, installed a bike repair station and resurfaced 5,300 feet of recreational trail impacting 150-200 people daily.


“The work Fort Pierre has done is remarkable, their commitment to the health and well-being of their residents is inspiring,” said Laura Jackson, Wellmark executive vice president.

Along with the Healthy Hometown designation, Fort Pierre also received $5,000 to continue the important work of improving the physical, social and emotional well-being of the community.

“What’s worked for us participating in Healthy Hometown, is that the program can be customized easily,” said Hanson. “We’ve been able to not only seek in-person, expert consultation, but do it on our timeframe and budget.”

In October 2018, Wellmark presented two other South Dakota communities with a 2018 Healthy Hometown Community Award for their accomplishments in health improvement initiatives within their respective communities, including: 

  • Rapid City
    • Expanded community gardens and planted edible landscaping.
    • Improved and expanded an existing trail within the town by widening the path and replacing broken concrete.
    • Established four new food pantries to collect and distribute healthy food to people in need.
  • Sioux Falls
    • Expanded a bike trail by more than a mile to connect 40,000 residents west of the interstate to 30 miles of uninterrupted trails.
    • Implemented a “road diet,” rechanneling lanes and reducing the width of the road in front of the City Center building, to improve safety and provide space for different modes of travel.
    • Passed an ordinance establishing a nicotine-free policy for city properties and in parks during youth events impacting 183,000 residents.

“The work these three communities have done is making South Dakota a healthier, more active place to live,” said Jackson. 

Visit Healthy Hometown to learn more about the program.

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