Waco Walks group combines its love of history, outdoors while advocating to make city more walkable

Published: Jun. 5, 2023 at 5:39 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - A local group of walkers is combining their love of the great outdoors with history, all while advocating to make Waco more walkable.

The group called Waco Walks was founded in 2016, and gets local walkers together once a month, mostly, to learn interesting facts about the town they may miss by simply driving.

Ashley Bean Thornton started the group after deciding to try and make her main method of transportation walking. She read a book called “Walkable City,” which looks at how a city’s walkability makes the area thrive. It inspired her to find out if Wacoans would be interested in joining her efforts, to not only walk more and learn, but advocate for things like sidewalks.

“I can’t tell you how many people who have said, ‘oh my gosh. I never noticed that,’” Thornton said. “You really see a lot more by walking. Walking is healthy for everyone, and Waco Walks helps spread that good word, and helps us to realize that we can work together to make our community even more walkable than it is.”

The group has walked miles and miles in Waco the past seven years. They’ve toured the grounds of the Waco Methodist Children’s home, The Doris Miller VA Medical Center and Cameron Park.

They’ve had walks to retrace the steps of influential woman in local history, and to celebrate Black History Month.

The most recent walk was the past weekend, and focused on the deadly 1953 Waco Tornado. It’s a remembrance walk the group has held annually for years.

Eric Ames, a professor in the Museum Studies Department at Baylor, and president of the Historic Waco Board, led the group.

“We started at the tornado memorial at corner of 4th and Austin.” Ames said. “We started there to learn basic facts about the storm, such as where it happened, the path and what it was like,” Ames said.

Aimes said the group walked to the Washington Avenue Bridge, where they talked about the rubble from the storm that was deposited up and down the Brazos River.

They walked to East Waco to talk about the impacts of the storm around Elm Street.

From there, the walkers went to the Hilton Hotel and learned about the Bridge Street neighborhood, which once existed.

The walk finished up by visiting the Dr. Pepper Museum, Franklin Avenue and the Alico building, areas where much of the worst destruction took place.

“I think walks like this are important because we often breeze through downtown in our cars or maybe walk one or two blocks, and when you actually get down on the ground and you walk site to site and you realize just how large this storm was and how much it impacted downtown,” Aimes said. “It completely changes your view of the downtown environment.”

Thornton said the group uses their steps and voices to advocate for making the city more walkable.

“I think it’s a benefit to Waco because more people learn about the wonderful things we have here and also because I think it helps people understand how important sidewalks are,” she said.

The group is taking off the rest of the summer because of the heat but are planning a walk in September to learn more for Hispanic Heritage Month. You can learn more by following Waco Walks on Facebook.