Anacostia resident Kathryn Payton lifts herself on the lat pull station at the new Fitness Zone in Anacostia Park. (Jason Hornick/For Express)

Harvey and Karen Pitts took a tour of the new gym in their neighborhood Sunday morning.

While Harvey, 44, tested out one of the situp benches, Karen, 43, pumped out a set of lat pull-downs. They explored the rest of the strength training equipment — which includes stations for chest presses, squats and pullups — and then examined a cluster of cardio machines.

“This is perfect. You can tone up and do your stretches and walk on home,” Henry decreed as he adjusted to the swinging handles and gliding pedals of an elliptical.

And you can’t beat the price: free.

That’s because they were working out in Anacostia Park at the District’s first Fitness Zone, which officially opens with a ribbon-cutting at 11 a.m. today. The project is part of a nationwide push for outdoor exercise facilities by the Trust for Public Land, a San Francisco-based organization that promotes park usage.

Since the program started in 2007, the trust has established nearly 40 Fitness Zones, mostly in Los Angeles and Miami. In 2012, the trust worked with the National Park Service to identify eight potential sites in the D.C. area. Anacostia Park was at the top of that list.

Some outdated fitness equipment was already sitting in the middle of a field there, says Julie Kutruff of the National Park Service. The time was right to replace it with nicer stuff, she adds, especially since the ongoing development of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail was making the park more accessible.

“It’s another reason to get people to come here,” Kutruff says. And the more people visit the park, the more they’ll appreciate the nature that lives there, she says.

The park service purchased the equipment for $25,000 but didn’t have funds to install it — until the Trust for Public Land secured a $30,000 donation from the consulting firm ICF International.

Installation began on April 1. As soon as the security fencing came down on April 11, folks rushed in to try out the equipment, says the trust’s Kent Whitehead. He sees that as an indicator of the need for a Fitness Zone.

“When you look at where gyms are located in the District, this neighborhood doesn’t have them,” he says.

It’s also a sign that the Trust for Public Land has figured out proper placement from its experience with previous Fitness Zones, Whitehead adds. One strategy that works: setting up the equipment around a play area (in this case, the pirate ship marooned at Anacostia Drive and Nicholson Street SE), so parents can use it while watching their kids.

The combo makes sense, Kutruff says. Adults have one fewer excuse for skipping a workout, and they can set a good example for children.

Each of the 18 pieces of equipment has a sign explaining how to use it, so anyone can follow the Pitts family’s lead and just start exercising. Whitehead and Kutruff have also reached out to local trainers, encouraging them to bring clients to the park and host classes incorporating the equipment.

No one can reserve the Fitness Zone. “But if we have a line of people waiting to use a machine, that’s a good problem to have,” says Whitehead, who hopes fitness experts will post exercise ideas to the park website. (The pushup bars, for instance, can also be used as hurdles, he says.)

Probably no one will be as good at coming up with alternative uses for the equipment than its most active users: kids. The Fitness Zone may be designed for adults, but the playground set is also eager to row, bike and hoist heavy stuff.

After inspecting the setup on Sunday, Jason Vezina, 36, said he suspected his daughter would be spending a lot more time with the situp bench “because she could slide down it.”

The Play Must Go On

Typical playgrounds have swings, slides and monkey bars for kids. What do grown-ups get? Boring benches.

That doesn’t seem fair, says D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation spokesman John Stokes. So as part of Play DC — an initiative to overhaul 40 of the city’s playgrounds — many of the spaces are being outfitted with adult exercise equipment. “We wanted to look at the life span of facilities, and offer options for all ages,” Stokes says.

Like the larger Fitness Zone in Anacostia Park, the sites encourage physical activity among adults who lack the time or money to get it elsewhere.

At the opening of the $2.6 million renovation of the Benning Park playground in Ward 7 last fall, DPR planner Ella Faulkner said the six pieces there (including a cardio stepper and balance steps) were selected with community input.

Mayor Vincent Gray, on hand for the ribbon-cutting, looked approvingly at the dragon-themed setup. “It’s a place for entire families,” he said. His favorite diversion? The We-Saw, a supersized version of a seesaw that’s big enough for six people — even people as big as him.


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