Come Walk With Me

Man walking in woods

As spring turns to summer, Wisconsinites are typically eager to be outside. Winters are long and cold, and many of us make up for lost time by enjoying recreational activities or just relaxing outside in the summer months.

This year, the warmer temperatures are beckoning a bit more than usual, as Safer at Home orders have many of us anxious to get out and about. Fortunately for Madison residents, our area is rich with beautiful natural settings including four lakes, plenty of parks, and great walking and biking trails. It makes sense, then, that many people who call Oakwood home have developed a lifelong passion for being outdoors and connecting with nature. Walking groups at both campuses have become popular ways for residents to get outdoors and explore the natural world around them.

There are two things that interest me: the relation of people to each other, and the relation of people to land.

Walk Away With Emily

“A request I began to hear more and more was to start an off-campus walking group,” says Emily Lueloff, Life Enrichment Specialist at Prairie Ridge. For many years, Prairie Ridge residents have held a residentcoordinated walking group that meets at least three mornings a week year-round to walk in and around the campus, “but they wanted to get out into nature and into the community.”

Prior to hearing about the resident request, Emily had attended a symposium in Janesville. One topic covered was the importance of being outside, and how studies regularly show that outdoor activity has a number of physical and emotional benefits.

“We’re supposed to be getting out and enjoying nature and the outdoors. Working with older adults, I think that’s so important. We’re so lucky to have the beautiful natural setting at Oakwood with accessible walking paths."

Based upon resident requests, and motivated by a fresh perspective on the importance of being outdoors, “Walk Away With Emily” was born. In warmer months, Emily and interested residents board an Oakwood bus and head to a local trail.

“Ideally, we try to do two miles. We usually do a mile in, and then turn around for a mile back. I tell residents to plan to walk for an hour.”

“I like that I can get out, go at my own pace, and be around a lot of cheerful people that are just happy to be out in nature.”

Exploring Madison

Emily knows of some of the local trails, but otherwise often takes to Google to find their next adventure. Walks last year included the Upper and Lower Yahara River Trail, Pheasant Branch Conservancy Trail in Middleton, and Picnic Point.

“I usually go and scout out the trails before heading there with residents, just to make sure they’re accessible for everyone,” says Emily. Residents walking independently, with canes, and with four-wheeled walkers have all attended Emily’s walks.

When asked if she had any favorite trails the group has done, Emily responds, “Picnic Point was great — we actually went there twice. Once, to see Bucky on Parade, and then back to see the fall colors. It was especially fun because there were a few residents who hadn’t been there for 30, 40 years, and it was very nostalgic for them. When we got out to the point, people were reminiscing and sharing memories of old friends and times they’d had there.”

Nature Walkabout Group

A passion for the outdoors is something shared by residents at Prairie Ridge and University Woods alike. University Woods resident Wynn Davies put out an invitation for residents interested in coming together for nature walks to gather and share ideas. From that invite, in spring 2019 the "Nature Walkabout Group" was born.

Two couples walking

Wynn has an email group of about 18 residents with whom he shares news of planned walks and reports of walks completed. “We generally took two walks per month through the spring, summer, and fall of 2019, and took a couple snowshoe walks during the winter,” shares Wynn. The group numbers ranged from five to a dozen, and often included family members of residents as well.

“The group includes some of us who have lived in Madison for a long time, as well as those who are new to Madison and are grateful for the opportunity to discover interesting and beautiful places,” says Wynn.

They try to schedule walks suited for a variety of physical levels, and trail options within each walk. Following the walks, they usually gather in the Garden Terrace Bistro for drinks and treats, and to share photos and recollections of what they’ve seen and experienced.

Some of their destinations have included the University of Wisconsin Arboretum, nearby Stricker and Tiedeman’s Ponds in Middleton, Owen City Park, and the Aldo Leopold Nature Center. The group contains some very knowledgeable residents who can educate others about the birds, flowers, plants, history, and critters they encounter on their excursions.

Rave Reviews

Resident response to the walking excursions has been extremely positive.

“We’ve enjoyed it because it’s gotten us out to different trails that either we weren’t aware of, or that we knew of but had never made it to,” says Prairie Ridge resident Ann Smith. Ann has been pleasantly surprised with the accessibility of the trails they’ve walked.

“Sometimes you might be hesitant to go out if your footing isn’t what it used to be, but Emily does such a careful job of scouting out all the places we go beforehand.”

Madison is home to over 200 miles of hiking trails in and around the city. Emily’s goal when she created the program was to provide residents with an opportunity to connect with nature and each other, while getting off campus to get exercise.

“To go out and walk with trees on both sides of you and not hear any vehicles is incredible. You listen to the birds, and the sounds of nature, and it’s just so peaceful,” says Emily.

Ann agrees. “I like that I can get out, go at my own pace and be around a lot of cheerful people who are just happy to be out in nature.”

Walking Through Pandemic

Although the coronavirus has stopped life as we know it in its tracks, getting outdoors in a safe manner is still very important for many. To encourage those who are able to go out for walks, Wynn has sent suggestions to his group for individual or couple walks. A recent walk he enjoyed was to the crystal clear spring that comes from a ledge and boardwalk along Lake Wingra in the strip of the Arboretum that runs between Monroe Street and Lake Wingra. Despite the difficult situation that surrounds us, the outdoors continue to provide a peaceful respite to those who seek it.

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