Walking, biking focus of efforts

BikeWalk Virginia recently presented an award to the Harvest Foundation for its efforts to support biking and walking. Shown above are (from left) Ron Enders, Jeff Mansour, Ellen Jessee and Stephanie Smith.

October 1, 2007

By SHAWN HOPKINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

A Harvest Foundation-supported group wants to make Martinsville and Henry County more biking, hiking and walking friendly, and they're starting small. Or at least, their first converts are.

Students at Patrick Henry Elementary School will participate in BikeWalk Virginia's first program in the area on Wednesday. The students will be dropped off Wednesday morning at J. Frank Wilson Park and, with plenty of adult supervision, they will walk to their school from the park, which is located beside Patrick Henry on Church Street Extension.

Stephanie Smith, an organizer for Virginia Safe Routes to Schools, and Allen Turnbull, executive director of BikeWalk Virginia, were in the area last week to help Patrick Henry and other schools plan ways to mark Wednesday's event. They said other schools will have events during the school day.

In July, BikeWalk Virginia began coordinating a three-year, $1.5 million Harvest Foundation grant to implement biking, hiking and walking programs here.

Smith said the group's goals include promoting safe routes to encourage children to walk to school and encouraging bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly policies and streets that support all types of traffic, not just cars. It's a concept the group calls "complete streets." BikeWalk Virginia also helps communities develop trail systems.

The overall idea is to create safe places "for Virginians to be active," Smith said.

Communities where people have opportunities to bike and walk have an improved quality of life that is attractive to business and better health, she said. She cited the example of Boulder, Colo., which has infrastructure that supports an active lifestyle. That in turn contributes to the city's lower-than-average obesity rate.

Though Turnbull said "we're just getting started," the group has planned other programs here, such as a bicycle giveaway at the schools along with bicycle-related information.

The group also wants to build on and support local programs, such as the Walk To Jamestown program, bike safety rodeos sponsored by local police and a local biking club, she said. Walk To Jamestown encourages area residents to keep track of how much they are walking and use those steps to complete a virtual walk from Martinsville to Jamestown.

BikeWalk plans a presentation Tuesday at a bicycle club meeting at Patrick Henry Community College. The Henry County Bike Club meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at the college's J. Burness Frith Economic Development Center, Hooker Exhibit Hall.

Smith said she and Turnbull were impressed with the reception they received during their visit to the area last week.

"We certainly see the desire and the passion for people to be able to get out and walk and bike," she said.

Turnbull agreed "the desire is there" and said from what he has seen, great things can be done in the area in terms of biking and walking trails and improvements.

"The assets are tremendous," he said.

Smith said the process of making the improvements will be an ongoing one that will start with an assessment of community needs and priorities. After that, grant funding will be sought to make them happen.

The group gave the Harvest Foundation an award for its efforts to support biking and walking at its annual conference Sept. 21 in Williamsburg. Turnbull said some thought has been given to holding the conference in Martinsville in 2009.

Jeffrey Mansour, Harvest Foundation senior program officer, said Harvest considers the BikeWalk grant "an important long-term program" to improve the quality of life in the community.

Not only does more physical activity have health benefits, he said, there are economic benefits as well. Trails and access to streets that support pedestrians, along with other programs that improve quality of life, are the things tourists look for in a community and something businesses consider before they locate somewhere, he said.


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