Sarah Phinney used to show up to exercise classes religiously.
Then the pandemic happened and her gym closed. So, the ABC Action News traffic anchor started walking.
At first, she just took laps around her Tampa neighborhood. She ambled over to Bayshore. Then the Riverwalk.
Phinney, a Cleveland native who moved to the area to join Good Morning Tampa Bay in 2018, realized she didn’t know that much about other nearby parks. There was still not much going on with traffic by June 2020. So, she pitched a walking club series to her bosses.
The first story aired in July 2020. Since then, she’s filmed over 50 walking club segments, with new installments airing every Friday at 6 and 9 a.m. Phinney also created a walking club on Facebook that now has over 13,600 local members.
“I have so many people that I need to hug when we’re allowed to do that again,” she said.
Some of the parks and trails she shares aren’t too far from her home. But as Phinney continued to find more hidden gems, she started to venture out farther.
“Being in traffic, I would see the worst of the worst out on the roads, and to be honest, that didn’t make me want to drive very far for the first few years that I lived here,” she said. “When I started doing this story, I realized a 40-minute drive would take me to an amazing place in Lakeland or Bradenton.”
When Phinney started the Sarah’s Walking Club Facebook group in November, it didn’t take long for the group to blow up.
“At 100, I was like, ‘This is amazing,’” she said. “And then at 1,000 I was like, ‘This is incredible!’”
There’s also a weekly newsletter, a map that Phinney frequently updates and official Sarah’s Walking Club merch, including T-shirts, water bottles and bags.
“I literally have dreams about the walking club,” she said.
Members post about where they visit and ask questions about what to know before embarking on new trails. Phinney frequently posts challenges for members, from a step challenge to a fall scavenger hunt. She also spends hours chatting in the comments and passing along tips from experts featured on her segment.
“I try to be a concierge and a cheerleader within the group,” she said.
Members get more than just advice. There’s also a sense of community, explained member Brenda Pulido-Campau.
“In a society that no longer knows their neighbor, this group is supportive,” she wrote in the group. “We feel like we are long-term neighbors.”
“This group has honestly been life-changing for me,” added member Julie Blasberg Wilkinson in another comment. “Because of this group, I’ve discovered many beautiful, sometimes quirky, mostly peaceful, sometimes funny, places that I never knew existed.”
And as for Phinney’s beloved exercise classes? She visited her old gym again over the summer after getting vaccinated. But that didn’t last long.
“I went back for a very brief period over the summertime and then got rid of it again,” she said. “That’s not where I wanted to spend my time.”
Sarah Phinney’s favorite spots to walk
Looking for a new place to get your steps in? Here are some of her top recommendations around Tampa Bay.
Alderman’s Ford Conservation Park
100 Alderman’s Ford Park Drive, Plant City. Open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the spring and summer and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the fall and winter. View Phinney’s report here.
Emerson Point Preserve in Palmetto
5801 17th St., Palmetto. Open 365 days a year from sunrise to sunset. View Phinney’s report here.
Celery Fields in Sarasota County
6893 Palmer Blvd., Sarasota. Open 6 a.m. to sunset. View Phinney’s report here.
George McGough Nature Park in Largo
11901 146th St. N., Largo. Open sunrise to sunset. View Phinney’s report here.