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DL kids explore new sidewalks

Out for a Walk: Elementary school students in Detroit Lakes enjoyed some nice fall weather during their morning walk on Wednesday.

Detroit Lakes students and their teachers hit the road today -- or more accurately, the sidewalk.

As part of International Walk to School Day, hundreds from the city's public schools all took off at 8:30 this morning simultaneously to walk roughly one mile -- part of which was on the newly constructed sidewalks outside of Roosevelt and Rossman elementaries and the Middle School.

A big, red ribbon was sliced across those brand new sidewalks -- one next to Central Street just before Roosevelt and Middle School students took off, and one on Fourth Street and Rossman at 9 a.m. right after students there returned from a morning stroll.

Mayor Matt Brenk did the honors, as other city leaders, school leaders and members of the State Health Improvement Initiative were on hand for the event.

SHIP's School Coordinator, Karen Nitzkorski, has been working with eight schools throughout the region, including Detroit Lakes and says today's event is just one more "step" towards reducing obesity.

"I never thought I'd say sidewalks were beautiful, but they are!" said Nitzkorski, who says their goal is to nudge people to become healthier through everyday things like policy and infrastructure changes -- such as those new sidewalks.

They were paid for through a nearly $280,000 federal transportation grant called "Safe Routes to School," which the city of Detroit Lakes received.

"The two benefits I see here are safety, number one," said Brenk, "and number two ... better health and developing a mindset that we need to walk and bike more .... that we need to be more conscious about our health and our weight."

Brenk says the new sidewalks blend in perfectly with their efforts to make Detroit Lakes a healthy, recreational area. That includes the expansion of the new biking and walking trails throughout the city, the new outdoor skating rink, several ball fields, the DLCCC and now possibly the Detroit Mountain development.

Lisa Bender, the Safe Routes to School Coordinator for MDOT, says Detroit Lakes is leading the way for other communities throughout the state to follow in its "footsteps".

"And we'll be using Detroit Lakes as an example of what can happen as we encourage other cities throughout Minnesota to do the same thing," Bender told a group of fourth grade students at Roosevelt.

Once students returned to class, they were rewarded with apples -- Essentia Health donated 18 boxes of them for the morning walk.

"This is the third year we've participated in the walk, and teachers always tell me that when the kids get back they are more settled down and ready to work," said Physical Education teacher Kris Nelson, who led the walk at Roosevelt. "They enjoy getting out, and it's just so good for them."