The city of Decorah has decided to opt out of the Blue Zones Project.

"Decorah's effort to become a certified Blue Zones Community will now take a new direction," said Decorah Area Chamber of Commerce (DACC) Executive Director Nikki Brevig in a joint release from the Chamber and the city of Decorah.

The local leadership team is discontinuing Blue Zones participation in order to pursue a more comprehensive countywide approach to health in Winneshiek County. The Blue Zones Project is an initiative of Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and Healthways to help improve the well-being of all Iowans.

Decorah applied to become a Blue Zones Project demonstration site in January 2012 along with 53 other communities of all sizes from across Iowa. The initial model included temporary full-time staff to support community implementation of the Project. In February 2012, an alternate approach was developed for communities with populations below 10,000 citizens, and Decorah was selected as a demonstration site of this size in October 2012. Full-time staff were not part of the model for communities of this size. As the scope of the project continued to evolve, it became evident to the group of nine Decorah Blue Zones representatives that their volunteer efforts could be better utilized in ways more in line with community resources and objectives.

"The program didn't fit well with our overall vision for health and wellness in the area," cited Chad Bird, one of the co-chairs of the "Power 9" leadership team.

"The decision was not easy, and we continued to struggle with the narrow scope of the project. We wanted it to include the entire county and many outlying segments of the Decorah area to reach further than the parameters set within certification. It was a good time to shift our focus and resources where we felt it needed to be and that was on all of Winneshiek County."

After submitting the Blueprint in April, Chamber Director and co-chair Nikki Brevig said they received changes to make, and along with the continuous updates in the Blue Zones Project model, she said reaching Blue Zones Community certification didn't seem feasible.

Locally, the Power 9 team that organized the effort unanimously agreed to pursue a new direction.

"The primary goal of our efforts has always been improving the health and wellness of our community," Power 9 team member Harlan Satrom said in a recent press release. Even without the title of Blue Zones Community, Brevig and Bird said the Power 9 leadership team is committed to improving wellness in the community.

"Our community is enthusiastic about making healthier choices," Brevig said.

"Our schools, healthcare organizations and industries have laid the groundwork for successful wellness programming. We feel that we can build upon that foundation to create a wellness program designed by our community, for our community and in our own timeframe."

Bird and Brevig said the team plans to hold community meetings to gather input and support on a continued wellness program in the area and to begin to build alliances with county wide worksite and support groups.