MARQUETTE, Mich.— Jerry Paterick of Marquette is one of many who enjoys free walking at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome. You can find him there for one hour each morning, white sneakers propelling him around the bend and giving a quick wave to everyone he passes. The free walking program, a partnership between Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Marquette General Health System and NMU, recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. All three organizations have committed nearly $7,000 each to cover the facility and staff costs of continuing the program as a way to provide another fitness option to the residents of Marquette County. In 2003, after the state reduced funding for NMU, the university implemented a fee for walking in the Dome. “When they started charging, we seniors didn’t like the idea too much,” Paterick said. “But they (BCBS, MGHS and NMU) got together and got free walking back, and we really appreciate that.” NMU President Les Wong said, “Of all the changes – cuts, reallocations, new fees – that the university made since 2003, the one I heard about the most, by far, was from senior residents who were upset about the walking fee. I was very excited when MGH and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan joined with NMU to make free walking possible again in the Dome.” Pat Prichard, BCBSM director of Upper Peninsula regional sales and operations, said Blue Cross is committed to supporting “healthy lifestyles by funding community wellness challenges and initiatives that get people eating better and exercising more. “As a Michigan-based health insurer, we believe it is essential for us to promote and encourage people to take personal responsibility for their health. The walking program at the Superior Dome is a great way for local residents to maintain healthy habits during the cold and slippery winter months.” Bonnie Kilpela, certified physician assistant for Negaunee Medical Associates, a service of Marquette General, agrees that staying active during the winter is important. “Having the Superior Dome available for free walking is a great opportunity for the community to avoid being outside in unpredictable winter weather, which carries the risk of falls, frostbite and hypothermia. I would encourage the community to take advantage of this free walking program and stay out of the cold weather.” According to Carl Bammert, NMU associate athletic director in charge of facilities, three full laps around the perimeter of the Superior Dome—the largest wooden dome in the world—equals one mile. Bammert says the building is used daily by a wide range of community members, including senior residents, parents with children in strollers, business professionals before work and on lunch breaks, and NMU students. “Also, adult homes bring clients here where they are able to walk for free,” Bammert said. “For the mentally impaired and those who live at home under supervision, it’s convenient for their counselors to bring them to the Dome to exercise.” Paterick is a retired NMU employee who will be 80 on his next birthday. He said the facility is nice for an older person for safety reasons and easily accessible restrooms. Paterick usually treks for about two to three miles per visit. He predicts he will have plenty of company now that the snow has started to fly. “My friends and I walk together in the wintertime,” Paterick said. “Most of us have known each other for years, and I know they appreciate being able to walk in a good environment like this, too. It’s very accommodating here. Everyone is friendly and they can’t do enough for you. And it’s clean. What more could you ask for?” Dome walking hours are 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 6 a.m.-5 p.m. Fridays. The building is closed to walking on weekends and during special events. For more information, go to www.nmu.edu/recreation.