Bristol residents challenge themselves to walk for health — and community building

BRISTOL — Darkness. Arctic weather. Chunky boots. Vermont winters often make it hard to go for a walk.
But as the days get longer and the snowdrifts shrink (at least for now, anyway), a new group is making walking plans for the town of Bristol. Heck, they’re not even waiting for spring.
On March 16, the Bristol Walking Group is throwing a party at the Bristol Recreation Field to kick off its “30 Miles in 30 Days” walking challenge. Participants get a map, created by Bristol Recreation Director Meridith McFarland, and a free logbook, created by Come Alive Outside, to help them track their progress. Then everyone will go for a mile-long walk.
“This program will bring community members of all ages to participate in a healthy, fun way to get exercise and explore the streets of Bristol and surrounding trails,” McFarland said. The group plans to reach out especially to those residents that fit into Bristol’s most concentrated age groups: 35–54 and 65–74, she added.
The goal is to get people into the habit of walking a mile a day, but anyone who walks 30 miles in 30 days can complete the challenge.
This means actually going for a walk, though. No tracking steps during normal daily routines.
To help keep walkers motivated, the group will sponsor a total of five weekly events, all beginning at 1 p.m.:
•March 16 kickoff: meet at Bristol Recreation Field.
•March 24: meet at BFit in the old high school.
•March 31: meet at Holley Hall.
•April 7: meet at Mountain Health Center.
•April 14: meet at Bristol Recreation Field.
Each route will be different and will include the headquarters of at least one of the group’s five local partners — the Bristol Recreation Department, the Bristol Recreation Club, Lawrence Memorial Library, BFit and Mountain Health Center. As they pass by these locations, participants are invited to take selfies and post them to social media.
Recognizing that not everyone walks at the same pace, the group has created subcategories, like “strollers” and “cruisers,” and each walk will include some experienced walkers, or “walking ambassadors,” recruited from the community.
“We’re hoping this program will inspire people to create their own group walks,” McFarland said. “Five walks gives you a chance to connect with like-minded people. It’s like a guided discovery. People can mingle and socially connect and motivate each other.”
It was Michele Butler who connected the dots among several like-minded Bristol folks and formed the group. As program manager for the group RiseVT in Addison County, Butler is always looking for ways to increase physical activities in the county, especially through social programs and clubs.
“Our Walking Club in Bristol is meant to be social, inclusive, and we are hoping that it naturally encourages sociability and a sense of neighborliness,” she said. “The goal is to encourage everyone to get out and walk as often as possible. Regular walking is not only a safe and effective means of exercise, it promotes heart health, reduces the effects of being sedentary, helps balance, self confidence, and naturally increases energy levels.”
RiseVT awarded the Bristol group a $500 grant to promote the challenge and to help award prizes to those who complete it.
Butler and McFarland would like to see their program sprout new, offshoot groups.
“We are hoping that a faction of the Walking Club in Bristol hosts walks along the Bristol Trail Network,” Butler said. “I believe the Bristol Rec Club is a strong and motivated group, and (club’s vice president) Porter (Knight) is a delight to work with, so I hope to be able to support their mission and enable programming.”
McFarland said she likes the idea of a snowshoe club, which would extend the walking season even further.
Bristol’s club may be RiseVT’s first Addison County walking group, but if Butler has anything to say about it, it won’t be the last.
Middlebury will get in on the act this summer, she hopes, with a “30 miles in 30 days” challenge of its own.
“I’m working with Neighbors, Together in Middlebury with the goal of increasing awareness of walking access in Middlebury,” Butler said. “The hope is that walking to shop in downtown Middlebury becomes second nature and that this will help defray the negative impact and upheaval due to the rail-bridge project in 2020.”
For more information about RiseVT in Addison County head online to addison.risevt.org.
To register for the Mile-a-Day challenge, visit comealiveoutside.com/mile-a-day.
The Bristol Walking Group is also looking for additional “walking ambassadors.” For more information, contact the Bristol Recreation Department at [email protected].
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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