Step by Step: How a Local Hiking Group Created a Community

By Jessica Else | Photography by Holly Leitner, unless otherwise noted

Last year, Delavan’s Amy Hankins found herself at a crossroads in life. She had recently lost one of her best friends to cancer, and was deep in grief. Knowing she needed to do something to start living again after that devastating loss, Hankins looked to an activity in which she’d always found peace: hiking. But Hankins didn’t want to hike alone, so she brainstormed ideas for ways she could find a connection with one or two women who also loved hiking outside.

With that in mind, Hankins ultimately founded a Facebook group called Women’s Hiking Group for Southeastern Wisconsin, hoping to find a few local women online that she could hike with. From that small act, she created a platform where more than 1,000 women have come together, forming a unique community that translates to real-life friendships, outdoor adventures and true camaraderie.

Hankins says response to the group was immediate. “The goal of the group is to have a safe place where women can meet other like-minded women and meet up and go on hikes,” Hankins says. “I encourage our members to post pictures of their adventures and let the group know about favorite places to hike or do other outdoor activities.”

Hankins manages the group with the help of Victoria Vick and Laura Elicker. The team is also launching a book club for the group and just held their first nature-themed amateur photography contest. Members use the forum to share locations of hiking trails, schedule meet-ups and post photos. They swap safety tips, drop gear reviews and chat about other outdoor activities and shared interests. “Posting and asking if anyone wants to go on an impromptu hike is encouraged,” Hankins says.

Hankins moved to Delavan from Chicago in 2006, but she was originally from Missoula, Montana, and has been a hiker all her life. Her first “solo hike” involved toddling away from her parents on a trail in Glacier National Park when she was just two years old, according to her mother.

Hankins said the group has brought her many new friends and has also introduced her to new hiking trails. Hiking with others in the group also provides an extra layer of safety, making it easier to enjoy the outdoors and stay on the trail longer.

Now numbering more than 1,200 members, the group has been a source of newfound friendships for many people. Members use the group to find connection and inspiration. “It’s really nice to be able to meet other people who enjoy hiking and being out in nature like I do,” group member Stacy Solberg Uebersohn says. “I don’t have any other women in my ‘normal’ life that share this passion.”

5 Hiking Trails to Check Out

While members of the group enjoy hikes throughout southeastern Wisconsin, there are a handful of locations near Lake Geneva that they say are perfect for hikers of varying abilities.

Paradise Springs is an easy, 7/10-mile, partially paved trail near the town of Eagle that circles through deciduous forest and takes hikers to the ruins of a spring house, from which crystal-clear water flows into a large pond.

In the 1920s, the natural springs served as the centerpiece of a wellness resort called Paradise Springs Resort Hotel, a getaway for wealthy Milwaukee residents, that included a golf course, wading pool and shuffleboard and tennis courts. Water from the springs was bottled and sold under various names as late as the 1960s. More than 30,000 gallons of water flow from this spring each hour — about 500 gallons every minute.

In Williams Bay, Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy sits on 231 acres, with nearly four miles of hiking trails that meander through wetlands, oak forests, meadows and prairie. Sturdy wooden boardwalk spans several portions of the trail, providing a good surface for easy walking even during muddy weather. The land was purchased and set aside as a nature conservancy in 1990.

Bromley Woods in LaGrange contains a 1.2-mile, moderate walking path that loops around a kettle pond in a forest of mature oak trees. The 40-acre parcel of land is protected by the Geneva Lake Conservancy and is the site of the Bromley family homestead, established in 1844 when the family emigrated from England. Known for warblers in the spring, the trail is popular for birding, hiking, biking and running.

White River County Park in Lake Geneva is a 200-acre county park with two acres of frontage along the White River, including four hiking trails of moderate difficulty level that lead through forests and prairie terrain, past the river and ponds.

For an easy hike, the group recommends Four Seasons Nature Preserve in Lake Geneva, which includes an 8/10- mile loop trail that circles through hardwood trees, around a pond and through open prairie with a viewing tower. The trail, perfect for more leisurely strolls or dog walking, offers views of scattered wildflowers blooming in the spring.

As the group continues to grow, Hankins says she is happy to see a safe and respectful community of women supporting each other, both online and in real life. “We have a wide range of hikers, from brand-new to women who have hiked hundreds and hundreds of miles,” Hankins explains. “I’ve been blown away by the continued kindness and respect the members show each other.”

Author: atthelake

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