First Lady Tonette Walker

First Lady takes 50th Walk in Door County

Alyssa Bloechl
Thursday, May 12, 2016

Wisconsin’s first lady visited Door County’s Peninsula State Park to take a morning walk with nature enthusiasts, residents, travelers and exercisers to promote the 50th Walk with Walker event she has coordinated since 2011.

 

 

Tonette Walker, accompanied by Gov. Scott Walker’s Council on Tourism, Rep. Joel Kitchens and state Tourism Secretary Stephanie Klett, showed up at the park early on Thursday to get into the woods.

The Walk with Walker initiative has two goals: to promote health and fitness and showcase Wisconsin’s beauty through tourism.

She said she had not toured Wisconsin much with her family as a child, and this offered an opportunity to see new places in the state she had yet to explore.

“I’ve learned how beautiful Wisconsin really is,” Walker said.

Along with the state's natural beauty, Walker said she also learned that no matter where in the state she is walking, people care about the same things, primarily their families.

At first the initiative was conceived as a fitness program, but attendants at the first walk included moms with strollers, older people with canes, and everyone in between.

“We were like, OK, wait, we can’t walk fast,” Walker said. “Then we looked at it as a tourism, what’s in the area, what can we see idea. We always have a guide with us, which is the best thing ever, because we get to learn what grows in this area, what kind of birds are in this area and animals that live here.”

She said the walks are low pressure and she comes to talk with people about life. Her husband has accompanied her on only one walk, at Whitefish Dunes State Park in 2012.

Led by Peninsula Park Superintendent Kelli Bruns, the group of local park adventurers followed a trail that started at Eagle Bluff Lighthouse. The overall pace was slow due to overnight rains that left the path a little slippery.

On the walk, Bruns educated the first lady and participants about how northern Door County suffers from strong winds, which is why there are so many downed trees at the park. She also told the group about how invasive species like garlic mustard and forget-me-nots find their way into the park.

Walker said people need the state parks system for their well being. Klett echoed that sentiment in a toast with tart cherry juice from Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery and Market to the Walk with Walker program.

“It’s about the experience, it’s about connecting with your family, your friends, with yourself … it’s about letting your creativity soar, and it’s about better well being,” Klett said.

She reflected on when the program began and Walker approached her about walking; Klett said she was touched.

“Many years ago I lost the ability to walk, I had one of those diseases that is one in a million,” Klett said. “So many of us have to relearn to walk, metaphorically, and we do it every day, we do it over and over, and it’s one of those grand things that the next day we’re running around the block.”

Klett also praised the recently announced increases of Door County’s tourist spending and employment in the last year.

Karen Brown, a Peninsula Park camp host of 15 years, attended the event with her husband, Ray, and said she thinks the Walk with Walker program is good, because it brings more awareness to nature.

“Anything that encourages people to get out in Wisconsin, especially in the state parks is a positive,” Brown said.

Judy Boncher and her husband, Austin, are also camp hosts, just starting their 18th year, and they attended to meet Judy’s daily walking goals. Boncher said this is a great time of year to be in the parks because of all the green popping up in the woods.

“I think everyone needs to do this, and communicate with nature,” Boncher said.

“We need to be able to have these places to go, to relax, to decompress, to take our kids camping, boating, see nature and bring the classrooms out, we need to have green space,” Walker said.

She also praised the different park’s friends groups for the hard work they do to fill in the gaps that government cannot in the state park system.

On her walks, Walker has had groups of as few as five people and as many as 125 who come along for the adventure. She said the walks are held no matter what the ever-changing Wisconsin weather throws at them.

“I thought it was a great opportunity to talk to great people, members from the Council on Tourism and local businesses who are out to promote healthy living,” Danielle Szmanda said. “It was a great occasion to come and enjoy one of Door County’s jewels.

The next Walk with Walker is planned in Elkhart Lake in June. Visit http://firstlady.wi.gov/initiative/walk-walker for more information.

Main Street Market, the Door County Trolley and Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery and Market all provided time and services for Thursday's walk.

-abloechl@doorcountyadvocate.com, Twitter @alyssabloechl, Facebook Alyssa Bloechl