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Thousands of Salt Lake area enthusiasts gathered at 8 a.m. at Sugarhouse Park Saturday to participate in the annual March of Dimes WalkAmericacq Team Walk.

Eighty American Telephone & Telegraph employees inflated and released 10,000 helium balloons to launch the event part of a nationwide walkathon to raise $30 million to fight birth defects. Some 28 Utah sites were involved.The March of Dimes is currently stressing prevention by sponsoring community education programs and research in gene therapy.

The March of Dimes expected about 6,000 participants throughout the state to raise $200,000 in the walk Saturday. Many of the walkers joined in company-sponsored teams. Last year such teams raised $55,000 in pledges.

In addition to the volunteer effort, AT&T donated $1,000 to the event.

"The 80 AT&T employees involved in this year's Team Walk establishes a new record of participation from our company," said Sue Jensen, chairwoman of the company's Salt Lake Community Relations Team.

More than 600,000 walkers were expected to aid the effort Saturday and Sunday in 17 major cities and hundreds of other communities coast to coast, said organizers at the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation in White Plains, N.Y.