This article appears in the March 2011 issue of LouisvilleMagazine. To subscribe, please visit loumag.com .
Part one of five in a series . . .
Walking is the bargain basement of the fitness world. It’s easy, affordable and doesn’t require fancy equipment. “All you need is pair of good shoes, motivation and an interesting place to walk,” says Angela Hollingsworth, who led walking groups for years as a health educator for Metro Louisville.
Hollingsworth usually took groups to the scenic paths through Shawnee and Chickasaw parks. And virtually all of the Metro Parks offer great places to roam, with their curves, hills and terrain changes protected from street traffic and noise.
But it’s not necessary to drive to a park to find a fantastic walk. Many of us have paths right outside our door. In Crescent Hill, my route up Frankfort Avenue to the Louisville Water Co. reservoir and back is a well-beaten trail for local fitness fans, dog walkers and even a group of children who hike to school each morning with their parents. But for those who don’t have sidewalks out front of their houses or may be looking to spice up their regimens, we found some wonderful walks in fresh places.
Our criteria: Sidewalks or paths must be safely segregated from traffic; the route must form a loop that doesn’t require doubling back; visual interest and variety is essential; and bonus points are awarded for a place to stop for a snack or cup of coffee. All of these walks are between one and three miles long.
1. Louisville Zoo: Sights and Sounds Walk
You have to register for Norton Healthcare’s Get Healthy Walking Club  to get free admission, but it’s a cinch to call 502-629-1234 and put your name on the list. Then you are free to walk the zoo path any morning (except Sundays) between 8 and 9:30, March through October.
This one-mile circuit starts down the familiar blacktop path lined with towering bamboo plants and other native vegetation toward the Islands exhibit.
When you get to the bottom of the hollow, you’ll notice something strange — solitude! The zoo is open in the early morning only for the walkers and work crews and it creates a special intimate feeling when a snow leopard creeps silently into view or you catch a kangaroo and her joey standing stock-still and staring — right at you.
This trail is loaded with sensory stimulation. The sights, the sounds and, yes, the smells of the zoo combined with some unusual vegetation will spur you to complete this circuit a couple of times in the cool morning temperatures. Norton has provided signage and quarter-mile motivational tips about the benefits of walking, reminding you that you are increasing your metabolism, reducing blood glucose and decreasing your chance of diabetes by 60 percent. Several hills make this more than a casual stroll.
You pretty much have the place to yourself as you pound the blacktop and listen to the birds’ chatter, a maned wolf’s bark and a pygmy hippo’s wails.
Last summer, Cathy O’Brien made the trip twice a week from Jeffersontown, often making the rounds with her grandson in his stroller. “He gets to see the animals and likes to see the guys cutting the lawns and running their equipment,” O’Brien says. “It’s quiet at that hour, so I get him all to myself.”
Nina Walfoort served as project director of ACTIVE Louisville  and chairman of the Active Living Committee of the Mayor’s Healthy Hometown Movement .