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Red Pine Elementary: Nice day for a walk

The sidewalks and bike trails around Red Pine Elementary School were crowded with students and parents Wednesday morning and Gary Anger couldn't have been happier.

One year after Red Pine received a $10,000 grant to encourage walking and biking the school celebrated National Walk to School Day by encouraging families to ditch cars and school buses and turn to foot power to get to class.

When Wednesday morning dawned clear and crisp students hopped on bicycles or scooters. They grabbed their parents or their grandparents and they headed to school. The West End Gun Club, located about half a mile from the school, opened its parking lot to the school's teachers and administrators, all of whom parked and walked to work.

When students got to school teachers handed out water bottles and stickers to mark their accomplishment.

"The kids had a great time. I think some of the parents had as much fun as the kids," Anger said. "It was nice to see the grandpas and grandmas and dogs and all sorts of people."

Wednesday's foot traffic was higher than usual, but Anger said even on normal days the school's bike rack is a lot fuller now than it was a year ago. Anger said traffic in front of the school is down about 25 percent this year because fewer parents are dropping their children off at the front door.

Anger said before last year the number of students walking to school was down significantly from years ago. The convenience of car pools and concerns about student safety led many parents to drive even students who live within walking distance of their school.

Red Pine has the largest attendance area of any elementary school in ISD 196. To accommodate students who can't walk all the way from home the Red Pine has created a map on its web page that shows safe walking routes and drop-off zones where parents can leave their children to walk the last little bit to school. The school also implemented so-called walking school buses, neighborhoods in which families take turns walking each other's children to school.

The school held a bike drive last year and donated more than 100 bikes to students who needed them.

One year in Anger is thrilled with the results he's seen. Kids seem to have fun walking to school and parents have gotten behind the program because they see the benefits of helping their kids get some more exercise.

"I think many parents have fond memories of walking to school when they were kids," Anger said. "We've put into place some significant things and it's been really exciting to see the impacts."

Others have noticed those results. Anger has heard from the Minneapolis School District and Rosemount City Council members have approached him about applying some of his methods to schools in the city.

"The biggest benefit is just smiling, healthy kids," Anger said. "I've seen kids having a good time walking or biking to school.

"(The students) put it pretty simple. They say it's less pollution, it's less traffic it's good exercise and it's fun."