Feature Story

Dorothy About Town: 1.9.19

There is nothing as exhilarating as a walk in the woods—just ask Emerson or Thoreau. Or the Sierra Club. Did you know its Missouri chapter offers weekly outings in scenic areas, all year round? Even as a longtime member, I had no idea about these until a friend who attends regularly told me. They go to places like Hawn State Park, Mark Twain National Forest and Greensfelder Park. Walks can start as close to home as Forest Park or as far away as Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois.

It’s an amazing program that allows anyone to feel the beauty of the natural world for free (well, for $1), and it’s not limited to members. Because they take place on Wednesday mornings, the walks tend to attract the over-65 crowd. There’s a group leader trained to take others into the woods and get them out safely—no small comfort for the directionally challenged. Plus, the guide, in this case Doug, has passed a Sierra Club-certified backwoods safety program in case of falls or other mishaps. Rumor has it he once carried out a woman who had injured herself, and he has used duct tape to shore up hiking boots. Guides also do a pre-hike dry run each week to ensure the trail still exists and is passable.

During our leisurely walk, in Queeny Park that particular Wednesday, I met regulars from all over—Rita from Creve Coeur, Katie from O’Fallon, Janet from Clayton and Glenn from South City—about 16 hikers in all. And they were eager to talk about their love for this activity many of them have participated in for more than a decade. One man, Bill, liked the spontaneity of it all. You don’t have to tell anyone or sign up for anything, he said. You check the weekly emails that tell you where the group will meet and show up if you want to. Others mentioned the tranquility of being in popular parks on a weekday morning without the bikers, runners, horses and dog walkers you’d find on weekends.

And then there’s the camaraderie. Hikers bring their friends and make new ones among the folks they’ve been walking with for years. Many meet to go out for lunch on days when hikes are at some faraway place only the diehards will travel to. Canceling a hike is rare, they told me, and it happens only in icy conditions. When asked about the extreme heat and cold we get here, they pretty much said weather was no reason to avoid Mother Nature. After all, these are folks who love the outdoors in all its multiseasonal glory. There’s probably not a fair-weather friend in the bunch.