Wisconsin walkabout

Riveredge Nature Center educators enjoy the Water Story MKE app at Milwaukee’s Bradford Beach during a 2016 field test.

“Gotta beat Jim. Gotta beat Jim.”

Anne Danner mutters this as she logs at least 12,000 steps a day trying to get healthy and happy — and beat her boyfriend in their ongoing fitness challenge.

Some days she wins and some days he takes the title. But — after more than a year of challenges and many nights of running in place to gain the required steps — Danner doesn’t feel healthier or happier.

“It’s like I’m running in a rut,” said the Milwaukee woman, one of two dozen WiG readers who responded to our online survey about walking in Wisconsin.

New research may provide a clue to Danner’s misstep. It suggests she should eschew the treadmill in favor of long walks outdoors.

The research found taking three-hour hikes is more enjoyable than shorter, more intense exercise, and leads to increased participation and improved mental health.

In the jargon of the researchers: “Results provide support both for psychophysiological stress recovery theory and the affective benefits of green exercise. Thereby, similar previous findings of outdoor physical activity on anxiety and mood were confirmed.”

The study involved volunteers who took mood tests, followed by brisk, long trail walks — and then more mood tests. On a second day, the volunteers repeated the routine but on a treadmill instead of an outdoor trail. On a third day, they spent three hours in a room, where they chatted, read and surfed the internet.

Generally, the walkers were happier and had better heart rates than the loungers. And heart rates and mood scores were higher when walking an outdoor trail than a treadmill.

The study was conducted at the University of Innsbruck in Austria and published online in June by the journal PLOS One.

Finding your path

The results of the Innsbruck study wouldn’t surprise Eau Claire resident Tess Allen, who regularly goes hiking on the Chippewa Falls State Trail or the Old Abe Trail.

The Old Abe is on an abandoned railroad grade over agricultural and forest land along the shoreline of the Chippewa River.

“You’ll find dense woods and wildflowers out there,” Allen said. “I like to walk at mid-day, after the bicyclists have had their go. And I like to remind people that when you walk, you always make progress. It’s about my favorite thing to do.”

WiG readers also recommend hiking:

  • the Ben Dibble Nature Trail in Delavan, where the winding route runs along the Lake Comus shoreline.
  • the Oak Leaf Trail in Milwaukee, because it’s easy to get to and great for observing people and nature.
  • the Geneva Lake Shore Path, a 21-mile path through lakeside neighborhoods in Lake Geneva.
  • at Harrington Beach State Park in Belgium, for the candlelight hikes and walks around a quarry.
  • the Ice Age Trail, to see glacial formations — kettles, erratics, eskers, drained lake plains, drumlins and kames.

One of readers’ most recommended destinations on the Ice Age Trail is the Parnell Tower, a 60-foot observation platform near Plymouth offering a view of the forest and farmland.

“On a clear day, you can see for miles and miles,” said West Bend resident Bobby Harden. “It’s breathtaking.”

Walking clubs

Harden first visited Parnell Tower with a walking club.

“There’s dozens of them in Wisconsin,” he said of the clubs. “I don’t even know how many. They’re for adults of all ages. Really cool people getting together to explore, to see Wisconsin, to walk.”

A search on meetup.com — a useful site for finding all manner of local group activities — reveals numerous walking and hiking groups in Wisconsin. Some groups are more informal, gathering for a specific event — like the Milwaukee campers, backpackers and hikers’ garden tour July 23. Others are formal clubs that meet regularly, such as the Waukesha Weekend Warriors. The Warriors club has planned a Lapham Peak hike in early August and “Hiking, Wining and Other Shenanigans” in September. Still other clubs are affiliated with environmental groups, like Sierra Club and Audubon Society chapters in the state.

Similar connections to fellow walkers also can be made on Facebook, where Wisconsinites can find myriad outdoor opportunities that offer adventure and even benefit a cause.

Great Water Race

Coming up, for example, is a scavenger hunt in Milwaukee set for July 22 that launches the new Water Story MKE smartphone app and benefits Milwaukee water sustainability nonprofit Reflo.

Players in teams of two will use the app — created by Reflo — to discover how the city is connected by water.

The Great Water Race, with six destinations, begins about 10 a.m. at Cream City Farms — the micro-farm located in the 30th Street industrial corridor on Milwaukee’s north side. The race finishes by 2 p.m. at Bradford Beach.

Players might bike from one destination to the next, but once at each location they’ll walk, completing challenges to earn points — and possibly win baskets filled with swag from Milwaukee Kayak Company, Bublr Bikes, Lakefront Brewery, River Revitalization and Milwaukee Riverkeeper.

The race, says project organizer Michael Timm, is “about sharing an experience of discovery that connects us to water history and green infrastructure stories citywide.

If you go

The Great Water Race is set for July 22. It kicks off at 10 a.m. from Cream City Farms, 2055 N. 30th St. Tickets are $30 per team (two people is the suggested team size), with proceeds benefiting Reflo. For more information or to buy tickets, visit refloh2o.com/water-story.

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