TOWN OF LOWVILLE — Neither rain nor sleet would keep Wisconsin first lady Tonette Walker from her morning hike.
As she stood under her umbrella Thursday morning at the MacKenzie Environmental Education Center, Walker noted two things about her 31st Walk With Walker — that it isn’t the first walk she’s taken in inclement weather, but it is the first time that no residents from the host community joined in the hike.
Walker told the group of about a dozen people — media, MacKenzie Center supporters, local and state officials — that Walk with Walker originated with her husband, Gov. Scott Walker, when he was the Milwaukee County executive, and he got in the habit of inviting county employees on noontime hikes.
Now, Tonette Walker said, it’s her program to promote a healthy lifestyle and call attention to Wisconsin’s scenic areas.
The three-quarter-mile walk was along the Ecology Trail, one of five hiking trails that originate at the South Trails area of the 500-acre property — operated by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources since September, after the DNR took over the operation from the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.
The rain and sleet were coming down steadily as the group embarked on the trail, stepping on slippery patches of mud, moss and last fall’s leaves. When one of the hikers offered to carry Walker’s umbrella, she replied that she might need to use it as a walking stick.
J.D. Smith, the MacKenzie Center’s director, paused briefly to point out that the center has some of the state’s largest specimens of various tree species, and that fallen limbs, branches and trunks are typically left lying where they fell to provide wildlife habitat.
The rain let up near the end of the hike. But Walker’s tour of Columbia County was far from over.
Later in the morning, she visited Portage and toured the Women’s Civic League Home and the Fort Winnebago Surgeon’s Quarters and concluded her visit with lunch at the Historic Indian Agency House.
But first, Walker was invited to tour other MacKenzie Center facilities, including the lodge that is the home base for educational programs.
Ruth Ann Lee, a MacKenzie Center educator, took Walker to a room that includes taxidermy samples of indigenous wildlife, and displays of outdoor equipment.
“You can be an avid outdoor enthusiast and still not see how it all fits together,” she said.
Walker also met with a group of fourth-graders from Beaver Dam who had just arrived at the MacKenzie Center for an overnight visit.
Dave Fantle, deputy director of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, talked to the youngsters about the importance to the state economy of welcoming visitors to Wisconsin.
“It’s a big business,” he said.
To which Walker replied, “Tourism is fun.”