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Willowbrook wins Bentonville school biking initiative

by Mary Jordan | October 7, 2021 at 7:22 a.m.
SCHOOL BIKING CHAMPIONS Students and faculty at Willowbrook Elementary in Bentonville, including Principal Christina Hamilton (right), greet Tom Walton, co-founder of the Runway Group, who delivered by bicycle a $5,000 grant to the school. Willowbrook won the "Bike Bentonville Schools" challenge, a contest in the Bentonville School District during September to encourage students to ride their bikes to school. Willowbrook won the prize by increasing bike ridership among students by 77 percent during September. Eighteen schools took part in the contest and each school that raised student biking percentage received $2,500. The contest was a partnership of the Runway Group and Bentonville schools, with philanthropic support from Tom and Steuart Walton. OZ Trails donated 20 bike racks to Willowbrook and principal Hamilton plans to buy more with the grant money. Go to nwaonline.com/211007Daily/ to see more photos. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

BENTONVILLE -- Willowbrook Elementary School won the top prize in a bike contest to promote student health and to better understand school infrastructure needs, according to campaign organizers.

"The teachers and staff at Willowbrook are beyond proud of our students for their dedication to riding their bikes to school," said Christina Hamilton, Willowbrook principal. "Our students work hard every day, inside and outside of the classroom, and their efforts in this competition are evidence of this as well as their commitment to their health and wellness."

Runway Group will donate more than $40,000 to Bentonville schools in response to the students' cycling efforts, said Krista Cupp, Runway's communications director. Steuart Walton and Tom Walton, Runway founders, are funding the grants, she said.

The School District partnered with Runway Group for the contest. Runway is a Bentonville-based company founded by the Waltons that invests in real estate, outdoor initiatives, hospitality and businesses committed to moving Northwest Arkansas forward, according to the organization's website.

Willowbrook will receive a $5,000 grant as the school with the biggest increase in ridership, according to a Runway Group news release. Each of the 17 other participating schools will receive a $2,500 grant, Cupp said.

Willowbrook experienced a 77% increase in bike ridership in September, according to the release.

The school serves 870 students in grades K-4 and shares bike infrastructure needs with Bright Field Middle School. Bright Field has about 590 fifth- and sixth-graders, according to the School District.

The two schools combined have about 130 students who routinely ride bikes to school, Hamilton said. The schools share five racks capable of storing seven bikes each. Many students resort to chaining their bikes to a nearby fence or benches, she said.

Hamilton said she plans to buy even more bike racks with the $5,000 grant.

Tom Walton delivered the prize to Willowbrook on Wednesday by bicycle, according to the release.

"Children have so much to gain from riding their bicycles to school, including physical heath, mental health and social benefits," Cupp said. "We hope those students who participated in September will continue to ride to school when they can and make great memories along the way."

Oz Trails is also donating 20 racks to district schools as part of the contest, said Leslee Wright, district communications director.

The racks will be donated to Willowbrook, Centerton Gamble, Osage Creek, Cooper and Elm Tree elementary schools, Ardis Ann and Bright Field middle schools and Lincoln Junior High School, she said.

Oz Trails was formed in 2016 to showcase the development of multipurpose trails in Northwest Arkansas, according to its website.

Participating school ambassadors are compiling observations about biking infrastructure needs to pass on to Runway this week, Wright said.

"We've had 15 principals complete a survey that shows what they observed in this past month as far as infrastructure challenges around their particular schools," Wright said.

Initial observations note traffic congestion and lack of sidewalks and trails surrounding some schools are barriers for students to ride their bikes to school, she said.

The district will provide the survey results to Runway, which in turn will provide them to the city, Wright said.

The city completed a Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan published in the spring, said David Wright, the city's parks and recreation director. The information compiled during the campaign will be a valuable addition to what the city has previously gathered, he said.

SCHOOL BIKING CHAMPIONS
Tom Walton, co-founder of the Runway Group, chats with students at Willowbrook Elementary in Bentonville after Walton rode his bike to the school to deliver a $5,000 grant check to school located on Bright Road in Bentonville.  Willowbrook won the "Bike Bentonville Schools" challenge, a contest in the Bentonville School District during September to encourage students to ride their bikes to school. Willowbrook won the prize by increasing bike ridership among students by 77 percent during September. Eighteen schools took part in the contest and each school that raised student biking percentage received $2,500. The contest was a partnership of the Runway Group and Bentonville schools, with philanthropic support from Tom and Steuart Walton. OZ Trails donated 20 bike racks to Willowbrook and Principal Christina Hamilton plans to buy more with the grant money. Go to nwaonline.com/211007Daily/ to see more photos. 
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
SCHOOL BIKING CHAMPIONS Tom Walton, co-founder of the Runway Group, chats with students at Willowbrook Elementary in Bentonville after Walton rode his bike to the school to deliver a $5,000 grant check to school located on Bright Road in Bentonville. Willowbrook won the "Bike Bentonville Schools" challenge, a contest in the Bentonville School District during September to encourage students to ride their bikes to school. Willowbrook won the prize by increasing bike ridership among students by 77 percent during September. Eighteen schools took part in the contest and each school that raised student biking percentage received $2,500. The contest was a partnership of the Runway Group and Bentonville schools, with philanthropic support from Tom and Steuart Walton. OZ Trails donated 20 bike racks to Willowbrook and Principal Christina Hamilton plans to buy more with the grant money. Go to nwaonline.com/211007Daily/ to see more photos. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
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