Around 40 people showed up on a foggy day in Peninsula State Park to join Wisconsin’s First Lady Tonette Walker on her “Walk with Walker” event on May 12. The walks are used to promote both tourism and health and wellness and Walker wanted to hold the 50th edition of the walk in one of Wisconsin’s crown jewels.
“We had been here in 2012 and the weather was so bad,” said Walker. “It was always on our bucket list to come back here and so we thought, ‘Let’s do it for our 50th walk,’ so we kind of saved it.”
Local residents and visitors parked at Nicolet Beach before being taken by the Door County Trolley to Eagle Lighthouse, which served as the start and finish for the walk.
“This type of asset exists because of people who are committed to our natural resources and people who are committed to tourism, to giving people the ultimate experience,” said Stephanie Klett, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.
Walker said that choosing Peninsula State Park had nothing to do with the Eagle Tower campaign, that the walk was simply a celebration of the 50th event.
“It was going to start as a fitness program,” said Walker, explaining the origin of the idea. “We had our first walk and we had moms with babies and strollers and we had 80-year-olds with canes and we were like, ‘OK, we can’t walk fast,’ so then we looked at it more as tourism. What’s in the area? What can we see?”
The shift to tourism is part of what inspired bringing guides along the walks with the group. In Peninsula State Park, Superintendent Kelli Bruns stopped a few times along the trail to talk about the invasive garlic mustard, how a pileated woodpecker makes such big holes in the tree and the declining population of bats.
“I’ve learned how beautiful Wisconsin really is because I didn’t really travel much in Wisconsin,” said Walker, admitting that her family didn’t tour the state very much from their home in Milwaukee. “But I also realized whether I’m walking in Oshkosh or I’m walking up here or I’m walking in La Crosse, everybody cares about the same things…We talk about the same things on every trail, about our families, our kids, the state or in our schools or whatever is going on.”
Despite criticism of Governor Scott Walker for funding changes at the Department of Natural Resources, including raising park fees and campsite fees, attempting to freeze the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship program and cutting scientist positions at the department, Tonette Walker believes in the value of the Wisconsin State Parks system to tourism and those who live here.
“We need to be able to have these places to go to relax, decompress, take our kids camping, take our kids boating, to see nature, bring the classrooms in,” said Walker. “We need all that and we need to have green space. And the Friends groups, I just think they are so valuable because government can’t do it all, we know that. So what better way than to incorporate a friends group that loves what they are doing and they love their area and they want it all to prosper just like government does?”
To see where Tonette Walker will be walking next, visit firstlady.wi.gov for more information.