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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Department of Health and Human Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

Last Updated: 6/22/2012

SAMHSA’s Resource Center to Promote Acceptance,
Dignity and Social Inclusion Associated with
Mental Health (ADS Center)


III. Selecting a Walk Site and Date

The first step in holding a walk is selecting a site, date, and time for the event. If possible, this should be done before the initial volunteer meeting is held. If that isn't possible, it should be done as soon as possible after that meeting. The following items should be considered when planning a walk.

Selecting a Walk Site

  • Don't try to reinvent the wheel by choosing a location that is unique. It is usually best to stay with proven sites that are used by other non-profits for their walkathons.
  • Things you should look for when selecting a site include:
    • Is the site conveniently located for your strongest base of confirmed and likely supporters?
    • Is there good highway access to the site for people who might have to travel?
    • Is there plenty of parking if the turnout is large (1,000 or more walkers)?
    • Is there a nice, safe route that starts and ends at the same place?
    • Is the path paved so the walk is "wheel friendly" for wheelchairs, wagons, rollerblades, and scooters?
    • Does the site have experienced park officials who have worked on previous walkathons?
    • Is there access to electricity and restrooms?
    • Is there access to shelter (with doors that have locks) where you can do your walk day accounting or that you can use should the weather be bad the day of the walk?
  • Almost every public park will require proof that your group has a $1 million special event insurance policy that names the park as an "additional insured." Any park can be added to this policy through a simple one-page rider. These riders are issued once the walk site has been reserved. A copy of this rider is all that most (95 percent or more) parks will need to satisfy their insurance coverage requirements.
  • Generally, walk routes are 5 to 10 kilometers (3.1 to 6.2 miles). It is strongly recommended that groups avoid having a walk that is shorter than 5K or longer than 10K. Walking a shorter 1-1.5 mile loop 2 or 3 times is fine if it is necessary to get the distance you want.
  • Generally, you do not want to pay much more than the basic user's fee for a site. This means, for example, you don't want to hold your walk at a zoo with an "entry charge" of $4 to $10 per walker. "Special locations" often times come with "special costs" and place severe limits on how a walk can be organized.
    Remember, the site generally has little impact on the success of a walk. People generally don't participate in walks because of where they are held; they participate because they want to support the cause.
  • Large, open areas (paved or field) can serve as the start/end point for walk. This is where walkers can gather before the walk starts. The site should have enough room for a stage and tables and chairs for walker check-in, food/refreshments, and vendor/sponsor information.

Selecting a Walk Date/Day

  • Be sensitive to holidays, including religious holidays. Holiday weekends are generally best avoided because of travel and other special activities (soccer tournaments, for example).
  • Generally, there is little difference between holding a walk on a Saturday or a Sunday morning. Usually it's best to let local volunteers pick the day if they have a preference.

Selecting a Walk Time

  • Most walks are held in the morning with the check-in times ranging from 8 to 9 and the start times ranging from 9 to 10. A small percentage of communities prefer holding Sunday afternoon walks with a 1 p.m. check-in and 2 p.m. start.
  • One advantage to having a 9 a.m. check-in and a 10 a.m. start is that both the walkers and the volunteers setting up the walk site get to sleep in a little later. This extra hour can mean the difference between getting up at 4 a.m. or at 5 a.m. for the volunteers setting up the site. On the other hand, the argument for the 8 a.m. check-in and 9 a.m. start is that the walk and post-event clean-up will be over by noon and both the walkers and the volunteers have the rest of the day to do whatever they want to do.
  • Check-in usually begins an hour before the walk starts. This is when the walkers turn-in their donations and gather with their teammates. Walkers also may have a light breakfast and take a team picture during this time. Be aware that "early bird" walkers may start arriving up to 30 minutes prior to the official start of the check-in period.
  • Other activities that might take place during the check-in period include music being played by a DJ or a local radio station and periodic announcements over the sound system about check-in procedures, available refreshments, team photo opportunities, and the amount of time before the walk starts. Many walks include a formal 5-15 minute pre-walk program of speakers just before the start of the event. An aerobic warm-up session before the start of a walk also is common. This helps to get everyone ready to walk.
  • It is important that the start of the walk be as organized as possible. All the walkers should begin at the same time so there is a sense of unity and excitement. Once the pre-walk program is over, there is generally a ribbon cutting that formally signals the start of a walk. Anything that makes the start more exciting (a balloon arch art the start/end point, a ribbon cutting, a countdown by the crowd, air horns, photographers/videographers, marching bands, or cheerleaders) is generally good to have.

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This Web site was developed under contract with the Office of Consumer Affairs in SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. The views, opinions, and content provided on this Web site do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of SAMHSA or HHS. The resources listed in this Web site are not all-inclusive and inclusion on this Web site does not constitute an endorsement by SAMHSA or HHS.