The Forest Preserve District of Will County’s “Woods Walk” program was the perfect prescription for a retired Romeoville librarian whose doctor pushed her to start walking years ago.
Now 83, Nancy Hackett has participated in most “Woods Walk” programs and has discovered new trails and preserves because of it.
In years past, Hackett had explored Starved Rock State Park almost on a weekly basis, but stopped going when her fox terrier, Juliette, died in 1997. After her doctor’s push, Hackett learned of the “Woods Walk” program from friends who were taking part in it, so she decided to give it a go. “I liked it enough that I’ve been doing it every year since,” she said of the program, which began in 2000.
Program participants walk seven of 10 designated trails at their own pace to earn hiking medals. The 2021 “Woods Walk” program began September 1 and runs through Nov. 30.
Hackett finished her eighth “Woods Walk” hike on Wednesday, Nov. 17, and turned in her travel log recently at Isle a la Cache Museum. After turning in her log, she chatted about her life and her love of tackling trails.
The “Woods Walk” program brings Hackett back to her Girl Scout roots of years past when she hiked and walked in nature during camping excursions in Pennsylvania where she grew up.
Hackett moved to Maryland after college, and she moved to Romeoville in 1980. In addition to being a volunteer for the Girl Scouts organization for decades, Hackett also worked as a librarian in Maryland and at the Fountaindale Public Library in Romeoville until she retired in 2000. The library job was sedentary, so walking has helped her combat the years of sitting.
Because of the “Woods Walk” program, Hackett said she has discovered Riverview Farmstead Preserve in Naperville. She also enjoyed Lake Renwick Preserve – Turtle Lake Access in Plainfield. And she loved walking on the grass trail at Evans-Judge preserve in Custer Township.
Through the “Woods Walk” program, she also learned about the Veterans Memorial/Centennial Trail, which is now her favorite. Hackett has been walking this path for about a decade and she walks about 2.3 miles Monday-Friday, weather permitting.
Her daily walks last around 90 minutes, but they can go longer if she starts chatting with those she meets on her journeys. She stops a couple of times on her walks, once to sit on the concrete flood barrier wall and another to sit on a bench. “The bench has that nice view of the river and the birds,” she said.
She loves watching the wildlife, including the deer, coyotes, egrets, snakes and mink she has spotted during her walks. She even saw a family of three otters. “The little one was sitting on the stones watching his parents play in the water,” she said.
And she had a staring contest with two stags until – with no perceptible signal given – the creatures bolted in unison back into the woods.
Hackett, who is president of the Romeoville Historical Society and is a White Oak Library District trustee, shares the area’s history with those who stop to speak with her during her walks. She knows all about the Veterans Memorial/Centennial trail’s iron bridge, which used to be on 135th street but was dismantled and moved to the trailhead at Schneider’s Passage to make way for a modern bridge on the road.
Hackett, who helped write a book on the village’s history, gives out her Romeoville Historical Society business cards to fellow trail users and urges them to visit the museum and learn more about the community.
And she shares observations and jokes with fellow path users. She named a heron she sees often along the trail “Henry.” When she shared that information with a bicyclist, he said the heron’s name is “Hank,” as in Hank Heron.
She debated with another path user who insisted a leaf on the trail belonged to a red oak, but she knew it was a silver maple because of the points on the leaf. “I earned a tree badge when I was a Girl Scout,” she said.
On every walk she takes, Hackett wears a medical alert device for emergencies. She also brings water and a bag she received from a fellow path user who made it for a craft fair that was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Inside the bag is the “sit-upon” Hackett’s mom made when she was a Brownie Troop leader back 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-day “sit-upons” have more stuffing, but they can’t be folded up as flat as hers, Hackett said. The “sit-upon” has accompanied Hackett on trips all over the United States.
In the past year or so, because of the pandemic, Hackett has enjoyed her walks close to home more than ever. She loves interacting with others, viewing wild animals and absorbing the scenery.
“I need to do this, otherwise I would be sitting home doing nothing,” she said. “And I get kind of upset when I can’t get out to walk. I love getting fresh air and it’s something I can do without a mask. Walking makes me feel good.”
For more information on the Forest Preserve District of Will County, visit ReconnectWithNature.org.