First Lady Tonette Walker

A Walk in the Park with Mrs. Walker

By: Jim Lundstrom, Chilton Times
Wednesday, June 8, 2011

America is a house divided on the subject of perambulation.

Some – the minority – believe walking to be a healthy physical and spiritual activity, while the rest think walking is what you are forced to do when your car runs out of gas or the remote goes missing.

There is a very small sub-group that feels lucky to be able to walk at all, a situation best summed up by the Polish aphorist Stanislaw J. Lec: "He who limps is still walking."

And then there are those who are suddenly inspired to walk, which is the case for First Lady Tonette Walker, who held her first Walk with Walker event Saturday at High Cliff State Park.

"I personally need to get out and walk around and get moving," she said. "I have Type 1 diabetes. Walking is great for diabetes, so this is a perfect fit."

And the last five months have not exactly been a cakewalk, with dramatic events unfolding in Madison since her husband took office in January.

"Well, you know it has been stressful," she said. "I've been reading about the fact that walking is good for stress, so this is the perfect outlet for me."

About 30 people showed up to take the first nature trail walk with Mrs. Walker, including members of her staff, High Cliff State Park staff, Tourism Secretary Stephanie Klett, State Parks Director Dan Schuller, several members of Friends of High Cliff and about an equal number of the public.

Led by High Cliff's top ranger, park superintendent Carolyn Morgen, the group took a leisurely stroll of about 1.5 miles along the park's Forest Management Trail, which, as the name implies, takes hikers through a well-manicured managed forest, as well as through a lovely meadow.

It was a low-key 35-minute walk in the park on a beautiful first Saturday in June, which gave Mrs. Walker the opportunity to talk with most of the citizens who showed up to walk with her.

"We did a great job together," she said at the end of the walk. "We all walked as a team and I enjoyed meeting everybody."

The idea for these walks with the First Lady through the state parks comes from her husband, Gov. Scott Walker, who led lunchtime Walks with Walker when he served as Milwaukee County executive before becoming governor.

"I had a friend say to me, 'You should take that to state'," Mrs. Walker said. "When I brought it over to Stephanie (in the Tourism Department), they were 110% behind it."

Mrs. Walker stopped short of announcing any personal goals for herself during this series of walks, which continues July 20 in Bayfield.

"I don't know if I should set a goal for myself," she said. "If I don't meet it, I will be really frustrated. I'm one of those people. If I can walk all of them, and each of them gets a little longer, that's fine by me."

Jon McElhaney, president of the Friends of High Cliff, said Mrs. Walker's decision to take her first walk at High Cliff State Park is a positive for the park's visibility.

With a mission to team with park staff to enhance the educational and aesthetic aspects of the park, McElhaney said the Friends are now working on a multi-year, multi-phase, $165,000 renovation of the Butterfly Pond area of the park, where an unsafe earthen dam had to be breached.

"We'll be doing some new trails at Butterfly Pond, and establish some additional wetland areas for better observation points for some of the wildlife," he said.

McElhaney said the 225-member Friends group relies on communit6y partners to help with projects such as the Butterfly Pond renovation. He mentions the engineering study for the project included $9,000 from the Friends group and a match in services by the McMahon Group of Neenah.

"We have some great partnerships with businesses and the community," he said.

The group is also always looking for new members to help.

"We really try to attract leaders in the community to help us with our directive to improve and enhance the enjoyment of the park," he said. For more information,

Mrs. Walker said folks can follow her walking adventures online at

"There will be blogging and tips on our website," she said.

And for the other adventure that began when her husband took office this year? Stay tuned.

"It's politics. Some days are better than the others," Mrs. Walker said. "I think everything will be OK in the end. We'll get through this, and the state will get through this and we'll make this a better state than it is."