Friday, October 5, 2007

Students on the move

Blaine students embrace International Walk and Bike to School Day

Express Staff Writer

Katie, Alex and Nick Bell take full advantage of International Walk and Bike to School Day. All told, 503 Blaine County students participated in the effort to reduce greenhouse emissions and increase the health of local youth. Photo by David N. Seelig

International Walk and Bike to School Day on Wednesday was, on many levels, a noble endeavor. The efforts undertook by Mountain Rides, the Blaine County School District and the students and parents of local elementary schools speak to a community's willingness to act.

More than 1,245 schools in more than 40 countries took up the challenge to reduce greenhouse emissions and promote alternative transportation—all the while improving the health of the world's youth.

"It was a huge success," said Jim Finch, coordinator of Mountain Rides (formerly Ketchum Area Rapid Transit and PEAK Bus). "It was way over our expectations. The entire month of October is Walk and Bike to School month, and we really hope to build on this momentum and keep this thing going."

The numbers speak for themselves. District-wide 503 elementary school kids walked or biked to school. That's roughly 42 percent of the total student body, Finch said. On an average day maybe 20 percent use alternative transportation to and from school. Broken down individually, Woodside Elementary took top honors with an estimated 46 percent hoofing it or biking. Hailey Elementary saw 42 percent. Bellevue saw 28 percent. Hemingway had 20 percent. Carey had approximately 16 percent.

"The entire effort really was excellent," said Jason Miller, director of planning and market strategy for Mountain Rides.

"On any given morning in the Wood River Valley, 25 percent of cars on the road are bringing kids to school," Finch said. "Take that off the road, and that's a huge impact."

Aside from the environmental benefit, kids using their own two feet to get to and from school has health benefits. Americans hold the dubious honor of being the world's most overweight people. Statistics complied by non-profit organization Health Link report 34 percent of Americans are overweight.

"In 1970, 50 percent of kids (in the U.S.) walked or biked to school, and the obesity rate was 15 percent," Finch said. "Today those numbers are reversed. Roughly 15 percent walk or bike and now about 50 percent of kids are overweight."

International Walk and Bike to School Day is part of a larger effort, the Safe Routes to School movement, a program made possible by a $313,000 grant from the Idaho Transportation Department to Blaine County for roadway improvements in Hailey, Ketchum, Bellevue and for Mountain Rides.

The grant will be allocated to assist a variety of transportation-related efforts in the valley. Mountain Rides will conduct Safe Routes to School education and promotion. Hailey will build sidewalks on Elm Street leading to Hailey Elementary school. Bellevue will construct a pathway at Bellevue Elementary school. And Ketchum will make sidewalk improvements and install better school zone signs and a flashing crosswalk sign on Warm Springs Road. Other funds will be used to provide maps to parents and to organize communities to ensure students travel in numbers and a parent is there to accompany the groups.

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