Waco Walks focuses on appreciating history through outdoor activity

Waco Walks combines a community of Wacoans who take themed and educational walks around the city. Photo courtesy of Myranda Montes

By Myranda Montes | Guest Contributor

Waco Walks is a community that meets about once a month for a 1- to 2-mile walk in different parts of the city. These walks include educational elements that teach people about the historical aspects of Waco. Walking in areas like downtown Waco, East Waco or La Salle, Waco Walks will usually team up with an area or organization to host its walks and learn something new and different about the community.

Waco Walks began with a simple Facebook post and transformed into a thriving community. Ashley Thornton, a retired Baylor employee, turned a hobby into a community in her free time.

Thornton said she has always liked walking and it has been her main form of exercise since she was little.

A couple years ago, on New Year’s Day, Thornton decided to make it her resolution to use walking as her main use of transportation for an entire year. When Thornton was still working at Baylor, she lived about 3 miles from campus and walked home each day.

“I was inspired by the book ‘Walkable Cities’ by Jeff Spock because it explained how to look at cities in an urban planning view to see if cities are considered walkable,” Thornton said.

In the past, the group has had themed events, like Christmas walks, or a walk where they teamed up with restaurants that prepared samples for walkers along their journey. They have also had a Halloween scavenger hunt event, where they teamed up with the Animal Birth Control Clinic.

“My favorite walk we have done so far is we teamed up with the Reservation, which is a Waco historical area that had a legalized red-light district in the 1800s,” Thornton said. “At that time this caused controversy, but created a part of Waco history. We teamed up with ex-Baylor law professor G. Reading Powell, in which he created and conducted a murder mystery event, and we walked the Reservation. This had a large turnout of around 100 people.”

A challenge they faced as their community grew was that they realized how loud and noisy it was outside at times, which led them to experiment with different sound systems so everyone could hear directions and what was being said throughout the walk.

“All the events are wonderful, but I really liked the one I personally lead where we got to learn about the architecture at Castle Heights here in Waco,” Jill Barrow, member of Waco Walks and retired Baylor staff member, said. “I love Waco Walks because it is a great, informal way to learn about the history of the community.”

Since the pandemic, Waco Walks are just beginning to fully pick back up again in planning and executing monthly walks. They have ideas for the future, like walking the trails in Cameron Park as well as a tornado walk, in which they walk the path a destructive tornado hit in Waco in 1953.

According to Act Locally Waco’s website, “Our group encourages Wacoans to get to know their community by walking it … We also advocate for making Waco a more walkable community.”