The western plaza of Edinburg’s new City Hall proved an ideal setting for the Healthy Living Festival, celebrated in conjunction with the National Walk to Work Day and officially kicking off Edinburg Walk or Bike to Work or School Week.

The public arrived early and stayed until mid-afternoon to hear speakers and visit booths set up by local businesses and leaders of the “green community.”

“The attendance turned out better than we had planned,” Mark Peña, of Edinburg’s Environment Advisory Board, said. “We’re very happy with the enthusiasm of the community for these efforts. To me, it’s an indication that Edinburg is ready to go in this direction.”

The event was part of the city’s ongoing effort to address goals included in the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement that was adopted by the City on July 15, 2008. These include creating a compact, walkable urban community and promoting transportation options such as bicycle lanes and trails. The purpose of the event was to promote walking and bicycling in Edinburg and to improve the quality of life, the sustainability of the community and the overall health of citizens. The event highlights available pedestrian and bicycling facilities in the city, including sidewalks, bike lanes and hike and bike trails.

According to Mark Peña, Los Caminos Del Rio, a participant of the event, is helping develop a regional hike and bike trail, utilizing canal banks, irrigation ditches, and rights of way, to establish a regional trail network connecting Edinburg, McAllen, Mission, Pharr and the other neighboring communities.

“This will be the first step in creating a place where both adults and children can walk safely a few blocks from their homes, access an inner-city trail that makes them feel like they’re out in the country with native trees and plants all around,” Mark Peña said. “They can enjoy the birds and wildlife and be able to travel for 10 to 15 miles in the community without getting onto a roadway.”

Ouina Rutledge, Renewable Resources Manager for City of McAllen Public Works and Recycling Center, informed visitors that McAllen is the only city in the state that takes vegetable waste and organic matter — such as floral and bakery items — from grocery stores, namely Wal-Mart and HEB, and composts it, thus diverting the materials from landfills, reducing or eliminating the need for fertilizers and pesticides, and increasing crop yields.

“We take about three tons per store,” Rutledge said. “And we have our brush division that goes around the city and picks up yard trimmings and branches from people’s yards, which we compost over 200,000 cubic yards every year.”

The city of McAllen was awarded the state’s highest environmental honor, the 2008 Texas Environmental Excellence Award, last year for their endeavor to help cut waste and close the “recycling loop.”

“That’s what we call a full-circle, sustainable loop,” Rutledge said. “We’re taking something, and instead of putting it in the landfill, we’re putting it back into the soil where it needs to be.”

“What we are trying to accomplish in Edinburg goes hand-in-hand with McAllen’s commendable recycling program. It’s all about establishing sustainability in our cities,” said Mark Peña.

All around the world, communities are being pushed to address issues affecting quality of life, such as carbon emissions and greenhouse gasses. “So when we’re talking about urban forestry for the purposes of reducing carbon emissions,” Mark Peña said, “not only does preserving trees and planting new ones reduce carbon emissions, it lowers homeowner’s electric bills by providing shade, and it makes our community beautiful.”

Sponsors of the Healthy Living Festival believe we all have the capability to make a difference environmentally in our community and make the Valley a special place to live that supports a high quality of life.

“I see it as a two-prong effort, “Mark Peña said. “One prong is the city’s commitment to accomplish things in the community that will improve the environment, make the community more livable and promote mixed-use development so that people can easily get around the city. The other prong, of course, is the citizens who have to make a commitment to change their lifestyle, change our automobile culture and think about getting out, walking or bicycling rather than driving.”

Sponsors for the event included: the City of Edinburg, State Representative Aaron Peña, the Edinburg Environment Advisory Board, CoolCities Edinburg, Los Caminos Del Rio, the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, the Women’s Clinic of South Texas, UTPA’s Wellness and Recreational Sports Complex, CoffeeZone, Ruiz&Oliver, the Good Samaritan Society, and REC Engineering.

“My congratulations to the City of Edinburg and the organizers of this event,” said Representative Aaron Peña. “I am pleased to have my hometown pioneer a movement to make communities healthier and more livable.”

Edinburg is a “Sierra Cool City,” and the Healthy Living Festival was part of the CoolCities initiative. To find out more visit or contact Mark Peña by phone, 956-383-4951 or email