Rural woRx – America Walks’ Efforts to Get Rural Communities Moving


Kate Kraft, executive director of America Walks, details the workings of some of their rural projects

america walks

America Walks is a 20-year-old national non-profit organization dedicated to empowering
communities and advocates to create safe, accessible, and enjoyable places to walk and be
physically active for everyone. The organization provides a diverse network of over 30,000
individual advocates and hundreds of local, state, and national organizations, with the
tools, resources, and experts needed to build capacity, gain experiences, and successfully
promote walking and walkability.

As we work and engage with our network, it is becoming increasingly clear that walking
and walkability are not just for urban areas. Small towns, suburbs, and rural communities
are finding their own way into the walking movement. At America Walks, we are currently
working with and assisting, more small towns and rural areas then any other time in our 20
years. In fact, the second most frequently asked question we receive, after “how do you get
it funded” is, “What resources and ideas work for rural areas?”

The answer to that question comes largely from the communities we work with and
learning networks that we have facilitated. We know that the success in creating safe,
accessible, and enjoyable places to walk and be active stems directly from the strength and
success of the thousands of local change agents who work in every State in the USA. Our
programming, including online webinars, the Walking College Fellowship, a Learning
Center with tested toolkits and resources, are all designed to build safe walkable conditions
in communities of every size.

One of our more popular projects is our Community Change funding program which
awards small grants to community organizations, city officials, and other walking
champions to help implement creative, resident-led, projects they believe will get their
communities on their feet. These grants help to catalyze grassroots efforts that promote
walking and make walkability a reality everywhere.

No one knows better the unique challenges of addressing walkability in rural communities
then the people on the ground. For advocates in small, rural communities, these
Community Change Grants have had a huge impact on addressing otherwise overlooked or
under-prioritized issues. The grants might be small, but each of our grantees demonstrates
that small and catalytic does help to move the needle toward more walkable rural

Don’t take our word for it— check out some of the work being done as part of this

Central Valley Health District, Jamestown, North Dakota

Central Valley Health District is striving to improve the walkability of Jamestown, North
Dakota. For their project, they purchased signs to be placed at existing walking trails. The
signage will match an existing downtown walking trail called “Get Fit & Explore.” This
signage worked to increase the amount of people walking and experiencing the trails. They
also established indoor walking spaces, including the Civic Center and community activity
center, so that community members would have spaces to be active during the winter.

City of Burke, Burke, South Dakota

Burke, SD is a community with a population of 604 residents. The grant was used to
implement the first crosswalk in Burke, SD. In a collaborative effort with the Burke
Wellness Coalition, the City of Burke and Gregory County Commissioners, the grant will be
used to create a crosswalk at a high-traffic area. It will be located at the intersection of the
residential street and county highway where the City Park, assisted living and school sports
complex are located. The benefits of the crosswalk project include increased pedestrian
safety for those crossing at the intersection, encouraging additional physical activity than
there had been previously.

City of Okolona, Okolona Mississippi

The City of Okolona, Mississippi is a small rural community in northeast Mississippi. The
population of 2,800 shares a paved walking path with Chickasaw County that is used with
some regularity. When the grant was applied for as part of our 2016 program, the path was
going to be closed for several months because of construction. The applicants were
concerned that as a result our families do not have a safe, secure walking area. The grant
was used to provide a secure, paved walking area in an area adjacent to a low-income
housing complex. The paved walking area will complement the community garden which
the residents care for and provide a safe area for walking.

Each year, we see hundreds of grant applications for everything from walking clubs to
support for infrastructure changes, applications that represent the small changes that can
make a big difference in the health, activity, and engagement of a community. The program,
supported with funding from organizations and foundations across the US, has allowed
America Walks to work with dozens of passionate local activist and officials to successfully
promote walking and improve walkability. A high percentage of these applications come
from small towns and rural areas. In the past three years, we have heard from at least 300
mayors from towns with populations between 600 and 2000 residents proposing events,
wayfinding and beautification projects to help make safe, walkable places in rural spaces.
Unfortunately, we can only fund a tiny percent of those who apply.

America Walks welcomes the opportunity to partner with other organizations and funders
to increase the number of rural communities that we can support to improve walking
conditions and promoting healthy behaviors. If you wish to learn more or speak with
America Walks staff on helping to get rural communities on the walking path, please email
Executive Director Kate Kraft at