Forest Preserve “Woods Walk” program rekindles the love of hiking among Romeoville retirees

Nancy Hackett walks the Veteran’s Memorial / Centennial Trail in Romeoville, a trail she discovered through the Will County Forest Reserve District’s annual “Woods Walk” hiking program. The 83-year-old retired librarian, who walks almost every day, recently hiked eight preservation trails to complete the 2021 “Woods Walk” program, which ends November 30. (Photo by Forest Preserve staff | Glenn Knoblock)

The Will County Forest Reserve District The “Woods Walk” program was the perfect prescription for a retiree Romeoville librarian whose doctor urged her to start walking years ago.

Now 83, Nancy Hackett has participated in most of the Woods Walk programs and discovered new trails and reserves because of it.

In previous years, Hackett had explored Starved Rock State Park almost every week, but stopped going there when his fox terrier, Juliette, died in 1997. After the flare-up from his doctor, Hackett learned about the “Woods Walk” program from friends who followed participating in it, so she decided to give it a go. “I’ve loved it enough to do it every year since,” she said of the program, which started in 2000.

Program participants hike seven of the 10 designated trails at their own pace to earn hiking medals. The 2021 “Woods Walk” program began on September 1 and runs until November 30.

Hackett completed his eighth “Woods Walk” on Wednesday, November 17, and recently returned his travel diary to the Isle a la Cache Museum. After returning her log, she spoke about her life and her love of the slopes.

Preserving the discoveries
The “Woods Walk” program takes Hackett back to her Girl Scout roots of years gone by when she walked and walked in the wilderness on camping trips to Pennsylvania where she grew up.

Hackett moved to Maryland after college and she moved to Romeoville in 1980. In addition to volunteering with the Girl Scout organization for decades, Hackett also worked as a librarian in Maryland and at the Fountaindale Public Library. in Romeoville until her retirement in 2000. Library work was sedentary, so walking helped her fight the years of siege.

Through the “Woods Walk” program, Hackett said she discovered the Riverview Farmstead Reserve in Naperville. She also enjoyed Lake Renwick Preserve – Turtle Lake Access in Plainfield. And she enjoyed walking the grass trail at the Evans-Judge Preserve in Custer Township.

Through the “Woods Walk” program, she also discovered the Veterans Memorial Trail / Centennial Trail, which is now her favorite. Hackett has walked this path for about a decade, and she walks about 2.3 miles Monday through Friday, weather permitting.

Her daily walks last around 90 minutes, but they can last longer if she starts chatting with those she meets on her travels. She stops several times during her walks, once to sit on the concrete flood protection wall and another to sit on a bench. “The bench has this beautiful view of the river and the birds,” she said.

She loves to observe wildlife, including deer, coyotes, egrets, snakes and mink that she spotted on her walks. She even saw a family of three otters. “The little one was sitting on the stones and watching his parents play in the water,” she said.

And she had a stare contest with two deer until – with no perceptible signal given – the creatures rushed in unison into the woods.

History buff
Hackett, who is president of the Romeoville Historical Society and administrator of the White Oak Library District, shares the history of the area with those who stop to speak to him on his walks. She knows all about the Iron Bridge on the Veterans Memorial / Centennial Trail, which once stood on 135e street but was dismantled and moved to the trailhead at Schneider Passage to make way for a modern bridge over the road.

Hackett, who helped write a book on the history of the village, distributes his Romeoville Historical Society business cards to other trail users and urges them to visit the museum and learn more about the community.

And she shares observations and jokes with other users along the way. She named a heron that she often sees along the “Henry” trail. When she shared this information with a cyclist, he said the heron’s name is “Hank”, as in Hank Heron.

She argued with another trail user who insisted that a leaf on the trail belonged to a red oak tree, but knew it was a silver maple because of the dots on the leaf. “I earned a tree badge when I was a Girl Scout,” she said.

Feel good
With every walk she takes, Hackett wears an emergency medical alert device. She also brings water and a bag she received from another trail user who made it for a craft fair that was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Inside the bag is the sit-upon that Hackett’s mother made when she was chief of the Brownie Troop in Pennsylvania. Hackett was in fifth grade at the time.

Hackett cherishes this piece of plastic that keeps her dry no matter where she sits. Modern “sit-upons” have more padding, but they can’t be folded as flat as his, Hackett said. The “sit-upon” accompanied Hackett on trips across the United States.

Over the past year or so, due to the pandemic, Hackett has enjoyed walks near her home more than ever. She loves to interact with others, observe wild animals and soak up the landscape.

“I have to do it or else I would be sitting at home doing nothing,” she said. “And I’m a little upset when I can’t go out to walk. I love the fresh air and this is something I can do without a mask. Walking makes me feel good.

For more information on the Will County Forest Preserve District, visit ReconnectWithNature.org.



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