With the beautiful wilderness and miles of hiking trails, it’s easy to find enjoyment walking in the local area.

Penn State Extension is giving residents a little more motivation this spring.

The Extension announced that registration is open for its free virtual walking program, Everybody Walk Across Pennsylvania. The eight-week program starts March 30.

The non-competitive program encourages walkers to not only exercise and enjoy nature, but also to socialize with other walkers. When participants sign up, they are invited to sign up as a team.

“Everybody Walk Across PA is a great program for worksites, schools, community groups, and any other group,” stated an Extension article by Karen Bracey, Extension family living/nutrition/youth development educator. “Gather your family, friends, or co-workers to form a team of up to five. Even your dog can be a member of your team!”

Teams choose a captain and a name, then each team member is encouraged to walk at least 15 miles per week for eight weeks. The captain will report the number of miles the team walks each week.

“Individuals with all levels of physical ability are encouraged to participate,” Bracey noted.

The program promotes other healthy habits in addition to exercise.

Each person who signs up will receive motivational email newsletters each week that will include healthy recipes and walking tips.

“Most people know that they should increase their physical activity and develop healthier eating habits,” Bracey stated. “Moderate activity such as walking reduces stress and fatigue and increases mental alertness. It improves cardiovascular functioning and strengthens bones. Combined with healthy eating, it can help to reduce or maintain body weight and decrease incidence of certain chronic diseases.”

For those looking for places to walk in the local area, there are many options.

There are several groups of volunteers who work to build and maintain trails that residents can use across the local area. The include the Tuna Valley Trail Association, the MJ2KB Trail Club, the Kinzua Valley Trail Club and the Trail Association of the McKean/Elk Divide.

Also, natural areas such as Allegheny National Forest, Allegany State Park and Kinzua Bridge State Park can be great weekend destinations.

Participants can count other exercises besides walking toward their mileage total. A chart can be downloaded from the program website to convert other activities into mileage for the purpose of calculating one’s weekly total.

Teams can register at extension.psu.edu/everybody-walk-across-pa. The registration deadline is 5 p.m. March 30.