Dr. Brenda Jones, at right, principal of Madison Avenue Elementary, joins Madison Mayor Hawkins-Butler and Alderman Pat Peeler, a second grade teacher at the school, in welcoming students who walked to the campus for International Walk to School Day.
Dr. Brenda Jones, at right, principal of Madison Avenue Elementary, joins Madison Mayor Hawkins-Butler and Alderman Pat Peeler, a second grade teacher at the school, in welcoming students who walked to the campus for International Walk to School Day.
Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins-Butler, joined by waves of students and some parents, trekked along Madison Avenue Wednesday for International Walk to School Day.

A group of about 75 kindergartners through fifth graders walked along with the mayor from Stonegate subdivision to the campuses of Madison Avenue upper and lower elementary schools on the city's new, wide sidewalk on the north side of the street. After the mayor's group, more and more students arrived on foot at the two campuses.

The sidewalk project was part of a $564,000 "Safe Routes to School" grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation. The grant was used for sidewalks along Rice Road and Madison Avenue neighborhood, as well as multi-use trails, traffic calming devices and bike racks for the school campuses.

"Good job for being here," Hawkins- Butler told the children who crowded around her for hugs and encouragement before they hit the pavement walking. "Boy, we've got a good crowd. I can't think of a better way to start the day than walking with you."

Alderman Pat Peeler, a second-grade teacher at Madison Avenue Elementary, joined the walkers, which included some of her current and former students.

"I think this is wonderful," said parent Kathleen Earl about the city's encouragement of walking to school and the sidewalks that make it safer and easier. "The sidewalks are wide enough you can you easily walk and people can still have room to pass you."

Her 10-year-old daughter Helen Earl, who often walks from their Madison Oaks home with her grandfather, said she enjoys the early morning treks that get her ready for class. "It's easier to get my jiggles out of the way."

Ten-year-old Bob Loflin was ready with his black and silver bike. "I like to ride my bike because when the morning air breaks across my face, it wakes me up."

Parents brought their children from neighborhoods farther out so they could be a part of the Walk to School day. Mom Selena Sutterfield brought Jacob, 8, and Emma, 7, from Cross Creek to the Stonegate starting point because they wanted to join what's become an annual early October tradition for Madison.

"We don't get a chance to do this very often," Sutterfield said, adding that the family would probably consider driving down again to walk the last stretch to school.

Stonegate resident Roderick Parker said his eight-year-old, Cole, loves to walk to school. Madison's annual walk is a great idea, he said, "because it's nice to see the community come together."

Dr. Brenda Jones, principal of Madison Avenue Elementary, said the number of student walkers and bike riders has risen appreciably since the city added the sidewalks.

"Normally, about a third of our population walks to school," she said.

Madison Avenue Upper Elementary Principal Kim Hurst agreed that the sidewalks, especially the one along Rice Road that makes it safer for students in Oak Hollow and Trace Vineyard to walk, have increased participation.

"The sidewalk makes for a great connection," she said. "Some of the neighbors (across Rice Road) will get together to walk a group to the corner and watch them cross."

Earlier this year, Butler, along with Central District Highway Commissioner Dick Hall and other dignitaries, held a groundbreaking for the sidewalk project on the north side of Madison Avenue.

The work accomplished through the grant is considered an important segment of the city's pedestrian and bicycle plan, Butler said.

That plan will eventually serve the entire city by utilizing multi-use trails and sidewalks to connect schools, libraries, neighborhoods and commercial districts.

The goal of the plan, the mayor said, is to promote a walking and biking friendly environment "encouraging our citizens to get out and enjoy the city safely."