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Phoebe Sumter opens Mattie H. Marshall Cross Country Trail

By Ken Gustafson

AMERICUS — On Tuesday, Phoebe Sumter Medical Center, along with the Phoebe Sumter Foundation Board, celebrated the grand opening of the Mattie H. Marshall Cross Country Trail. The trail, which is a little over a mile, contains a quarter-mile paved loop and a one-mile unpaved loop through a wooded area on the west side of the hospital.
Phoebe Sumter Medical Center CEO Brandi Lunneborg told the Americus Times-Recorder that it has taken close to three years to construct the trail. Lunneborg said that part of the trail is lighted and paved so that hospital employees, along with everyone else, can enjoy it after dark. “The longer part is natural surface for cross country meets and other walks,” Lunneborg said. “For personal fitness, anybody is welcomed to come out anytime and use the trail. For large groups, we would need to schedule in advance, but we’re excited just to have this here so people can come out and go for a walk.”
Lunneborg went on to say that the Phoebe Sumter Foundation Board is a local board in Americus that has been in place for many years and helps the hospital raise funds for things such as the trail. “For this project, they helped do the fund-raising effort,” Lunneborg said. “They donated funds directly from the foundation and they have been part of the planning and execution of this project.”
Lunneborg later told the crowd assembled for the occasion that former Phoebe Health Systems CEO Joel Wernick came up with the idea of building a walking trail next to the hospital so people could have a community resource that would allow them to stay healthy. “I watched a little bit over time because I was new to the community and I completely agree with him (Wernick). This is a great opportunity,” Lunneborg said. “I also saw a lot of our staff walking the parking lot in a big circle. They had limited access as far as places to go during the day. As we got to thinking about this project, it was really important for us to have something here close to the facility that we could use on a regular basis for staff when they wanted to take a break, stretch their legs and get outside to enjoy the beautiful weather. We are really excited. It has taken some time, but here it is. We have this great outdoor location and I think it’s going to serve those needs for many years to come.”
Lunneborg said that those who use the trail will see beautiful signs with recognition of donors and information about the trail at various points of it. “We’re excited that this is going to be a wonderful opportunity for people to use,” Lunneborg said.
Americus Mayor Barry Blount said that in December 2008, Phoebe was entertaining the idea of buying what was then Sumter Regional Hospital and that Wernick had told him that he didn’t just want to have a hospital here, but wanted to have a community campus that would serve the community. “… I think that’s something that we as a community need,” Blount said. “One of the biggest problems that we have here in Americus and Sumter County is obesity, which leads to other things such as diabetes and cancer. I’m hoping that our residents here in Americus and Sumter County will take the opportunity to come out on pretty days like this and enjoy walking on this trail and that our high school track teams can have events out here. This is a great facility. It gives us the ability to make Americus a more vibrant community.”
Michelle Andrews, wife of Benjamin Andrews, M.D., who serves as an emergency medicine physician at the hospital, told the group that a year ago, her husband told her about the plans to build the walking trail and that donors are needed to make it a reality. “We perused the list of things to donate and I said, ‘I don’t know. How about a bench?’ He looked at me and said, ‘A bench? That’s not very hopeful.’ What he meant was that we wanted to get moving and get healthy,” Andrews said. “For every person using this trail to get healthy and get moving, there may be another who is helping a family member through the roughest of times inside our wonderful hospital who just needs a place to sit and breathe and be surrounded by the beauty of this lovely trail and the singing of the birds. To them, these benches are a lifeline.”
There are four benches stationed along certain parts of the trail to do just that. There are also restrooms and bleachers next to a parking area on the west side of the trail off Odom Road to host large events. In the middle of the trail stands a rock sculpture, which was created by local artist Jeff Williams. The entire project was funded by donations to the Phoebe Sumter Foundation Board, including a cornerstone gift from the Mattie H. Marshall Foundation.
Phoebe Sumter Foundation Board Chairman Faith Pinnell told the crowd that the board has been anticipating the opening of the trail for quite a while. She expressed gratitude for Phoebe’s commitment to improving the quality of life for people in Americus and Sumter County. “Phoebe is here for us in times of sickness when we need them and yet, at the same time, they are cheerleaders for our health,” Pinnell said. She encouraged those gathered for the ceremony to take a minute to look at the list of donors as they walked along the trail.
After Pinnell finished speaking, she, along with Mayor Blount, Brandi Lunneborg and Michelle Andrews, gathered with others to cut the ribbon, signaling the official opening of the Mattie H. Marshall Cross Country Trail.