Bellefonte Middle School walking trail reaches fruition thanks to State Farm grant

Physical education students walk the new trail during class. Bellefonte Area Middle School dedicated its new walking trail on Thursday.
Physical education students walk the new trail during class. Bellefonte Area Middle School dedicated its new walking trail on Thursday. CDT photo

Installing a walking trail at the Bellefonte Area Middle School grounds was an idea physical education teachers Kathy Carra and Buddy Johnson have had in mind since they started teaching at the district almost 15 years ago.

“Every year we asked (Principal) Karen Krisch to make this happen, and every year we were told there wasn’t enough money in the budget,” Johnson said.

This year, it became reality thanks to a $25,000 grant from the State Farm Neighborhood Assist program.

It’s a social media-based community aid effort to help fund eligible projects around the country.

The new Bellefonte Area Middle School Walking Trail was dedicated at a ceremony Thursday, with construction having completed at the end of August

Carra and Johnson’s eighth-grade classes were the first group to hit the trail before school administrators and George Stone, a local State Farm agent and school board members, spoke about the trail.

“I feel lucky our company was able to divvy out the money for this,” Stone said.

“It’s exciting to live in a town with teachers who cared so much to make this possible.”

After 11 years as middle school principal, Krisch transferred to Bellefonte Elementary School, but the walking trail remained on her mind.

When she came across an advertisement on Facebook about two years ago, it led her to apply for the grant.

With help from Carra and Johnson, she campaigned to get Facebook votes for the project and reached out to businesses and community members — and students.

“I voted because I thought it would be a good place for gym, and to come out and have an organized place to walk and stay active and healthy,” eighth-grader Brandon Snook said.

“We get to use it, but it’s also easily accessible to the community and neighbors in the area. We don’t really have a lot of walking trails in Bellefonte.”

Classmate Halle Mitchell, 13, said she voted because she started jogging.

Mitchell said she likes to use the trail to train for races because as she can walk to the track from her house.

In the spring of 2013, the application secured the No. 8 spot among 50 winners, Krisch said.

That summer, the district was given a check that enabled the school to hire a company to draft a plan for the walkway.

Last spring, the drawings were approved by the school board.

It was built by Nittany Engineering & Associates around the middle school baseball, softball and soccer fields, and is made of a trail aggregate designed to last longer than a paved walkway, said Aaron Barto, district director of physical plant.

Three laps around the track are equivalent to one mile.

The original goal was to make a mile-long paved trail around the entire middle school, but the $25,000 grant wouldn’t cover the whole project, Krisch said.

But for teachers, “It’s just the start of something great,” Carra said.

“Going forward, we’d eventually like to expand it,” she said.

“It’s already opened a lot of doors for us and allows the students to challenge themselves by immediately being active when they get outside.”

Middle school Principal Sommer Garman said the trail has been used almost every day to start off physical education classes with a mile run or walk — something the students were less enthusiastic about doing before the trail was made.

It’s also open for public use, and Krisch said she is working to make it available for use by the YMCA.