Building Trails, Building Lives: Kids Are Connecting in Sheboygan, Wis.

Posted 08/19/14 by Katie Harris in Trail Use

Photo CC Gottfried not Bouillon via Flickr

The Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTPP) was created in 2005 under the federal transportation act, SAFETEA-LU. This program allocated $25 million each to four communities across the U.S. for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and programs. Between 2009 and 2013 alone, the program was responsible for averting 85.1 million vehicle miles traveled and 34,629 tons of CO2 emissions. Each week during the month of August, we will highlight one of these communities, focusing on the lives that were positively impacted by NTPP. Check out the previous installments, including our look at SPOKES in Minneapolis and the Cal Park Hill Tunnel in Marin County.

For school kids in Sheboygan, Wis., trails are about connections. And thanks to the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program, a nearby trail, completed in the fall of 2013, provides connections of all kinds.

Once a vacant field, the new trail allows students and their families a much more direct and safe route to and from the elementary school—as well as a vehicle to encourage and embrace long-term healthy, active lifestyles.

Connecting with Nature

Around 700 students, grades K-4, attend Sheboygan Falls Elementary School, and for many of those students, the trail is somewhat of an outdoor classroom.

Principal Lynn Bub says bringing kids closer with nature is the greatest benefit the trail provides the school, helping teachers redefine what nature is. She states, “It’s not somewhere you go—somewhere you have to make a trip to visit. Instead, we are trying to teach our students that nature is everywhere around us.” 

According to Bub, exposure to the outdoors—regularly provided by teachers—allows the elementary school kids to see that time immersed in nature can be included in their daily lives. 

“The trails helps us change the way students perceive and interact with nature,” Bub states. 

Connecting to Health

A morning walking program, hosted by a handful of Physical Education teachers, encourages students to take a stroll before the school day begins. The walking program is voluntary, but the teachers have set up a ticket program to reward participation and occasionally hold a raffle for the student walkers, as well. Bub says the program allows kids to move their bodies, use their energy and get their blood pumping before being asked to concentrate on school work. Additionally, the trail provides leaders and participants a safe, separated path on which to run their morning program.

Connections to the Community

Kindergarteners, in particular, use the trail to walk to a senior center near the school to engage in activities with older residents. Forging these connections with the community is important for the leaders at Sheboygan Falls Elementary School, and the trail has opened up more of these opportunities. 

“This wouldn’t have been possible without the trail,” Bub states. “We would have had to bus the kids over there, but now they can walk, they can be outside, and they can get some exercise.” 

Some argue that children today are less active and less connected with nature. But it is places like Sheboygan that prove there is an antidote to sedentary, disconnected ways of life, and trails and other types of infrastructure that support walking and biking are integral parts of that equation. 

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