Sylva - The first student walked to the front of the line with a sheriff deputy going step-by-step right beside him, then they walked together through a channel of pom-pom waving Western Carolina University dance team members.
More Fairview Elementary School students followed the same path. Some were bright-eyed and awake, some trudged as if they needed coffee. A few wore super-hero outfits, while others dressed like young professionals.
They arrived in passenger seats and back seats at a drop-off point where they were greeted by volunteers and guided to a staging area before the sun rose. Once assembled, 279 students emerged from the fog that blanketed the Fairview Youth Complex, trudged up a hill and onto campus Wednesday morning to participate in Walk to School Day.
The N.C. Department of Transportation is an active participant through its Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation, which promotes the Safe Routes to School program. Governor Pat McCrory's 25-year Vision for Transportation includes expanding bicycle and pedestrian initiatives and infrastructure.
"We've been working with the DOT in many ways, and as our infrastructure expands, it's important that we are talking about the safest ways to increase opportunities for our children to get out and be mobile," Jackson County superintendent Michael Murray said. "Governor McCrory's vision is all tied together with education and health care, and involving local folks is an important part of that plan."
Thousands of students at more than 100 schools in western North Carolina participated in the event on Wednesday - or has plans to do so this month - as part of the 20th anniversary of the national event.
Walk to School Days raise awareness of the need to create and utilize safer route for walking and cycling while also emphasizing the importance of physical activity, pedestrian safety, traffic congestion and environmental stewardship. Walk to School Day also strengthens connections between families, schools and communities as exemplified by the parents who walked with their children on Wednesday, and the 26 community involvement organizations that helped organize the walk.
Fairview has participated in Walk to School and Bike to School Days in the past. But the previous events have been at-school activities because so few students live within walking or cycling distance of the school.
Some students live more than 45 minutes away by car. Fairview officials utilized the adjacent community park as a drop-off point and allowed the children to use their own legs to walk five minutes to the cafeteria.
"Even in rural areas, schools can find creative ways to hold a Walk to School Day," said Active Routes to School Regional Coordinator Jackie Moore. "Sometimes you have to get creative, but we are fortunate that so many people were able to make it happen."