Every Thursday—come rain, sleet or snow—faithful members of the Starved Rock Walker’s Club gather at the historic lodge outside Utica to hike the trails of the state park or other nearby recreational areas as a group.
“Our weekly walking club was established here at Starved Rock Lodge more then 10 years ago,” explained organizer and Director of Activities Edna Daugherty. “In those years, we have attracted people from all over the area to participate and often, guests here at the Lodge join us in the hikes as well. We charge no fee and people seem to enjoy the fellowship and also the scenery the walks take them into.”
Daugherty picks a different place or destination for every week months in advance to constantly give members a variety of different locales to hike in. She admitted the concept was first started to promote the lodge and park, but—over time—the weekly walks which she regularly leads, helps her to see first hand the conditions of the trails and canyons to better inform overnight guests and other Lodge visitors on what path to take or not, depending on the season and weather.”I like to shake it up for the club’s members,” she said. “So if we are not walking here at Starved Rock, we go to the Matthiessen or Buffalo Rock (state parks), the Illinois & Michigan Canal or even some of the local nature preserves. We never do two hikes in a row to the same place and we try to go out no matter what the weather is like.”
To encourage regular participation, Daugherty said dedicated hikers get a Starved Rock Walker’s Club card, which is punched every week by her or other staff members. ”After 12 punches, the walker is entitled to a free lunch here at the Lodge,” she said. “And we’re always hoping new faces will join us. It is a good way to socialize, exercise and find out new things about the park and other nearby areas. The benefits are many. We have had members who have lost weight and dropped medication because of these walks.”
Wearing his “Starved Rock Hike-O-Logist” logo T-shirt before the group’s hike along the canal towpath Thursday, Ron Bengtson, of Streator, agrees.”I have been coming for these walks since they started 10 years ago,” Bengtson said. “I always enjoy the camaraderie. It is just a great group of people to hang out with and it is pretty hard to beat the scenery of where we get to hike — it is so beautiful. I especially enjoy our walks in the winter, which is my favorite season.”Bud and Joy Konczak, of Utica, said they joined the walks earlier this year to promote good health and exercise within themselves.”I also enjoy seeing what my taxes pay for in this public park,” Bud jokingly said and laughed. “When Iwalk here, I feel like I’m getting my money worth.”It is that love of nature which also brings Helen Koehler, of Peru, to the walks.
“I love the outdoors,” Koehler said as she stepped onto the towpath Thursday. “And this group is so very warm-hearted. Everyone is also so nice and so helpful. It is just wonderful.”
And, with members like Joe Jakupcak, of Ottawa, who retired from teaching at Ottawa Township High School last spring, the group often get a brief history or geology lesson along the trail.
“Before field trips were canceled due to budget cuts, Iused to bring my classes out here to study ecology,” Jakupcak said. He said he also has been hired as a guided hike leader for the Lodge, walking with groups on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
Beyond the walks, club members also participate in an annual June potluck picnic, a Christmas celebration in December and regular after hikes coffee time at the lodge.
“I enjoy the walks — especially into my favorite, La Salle Canyon — it is good exercise,” said Glenn Clayton, of Streator. “But Ialso very much enjoy the social time we spend together.” For more information about the Starved Rock Walker’s Club, call Daugherty at 815-667-421.
Written by: Steve Stout. Published in The Times 9/6/2013/