LIBERTYVILLE – A Lake County Forest Preserve District program encourages people to hike Lake County, although many don’t need the incentive these days.
With some feeling cooped up and looking for things to do, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have created a renewed interest in outdoor exploration.
“Our preserves have certainly been heavily visited during the pandemic, and many people are finding the calm they need by walking in the preserves,” said Nan Buckardt, director of education for the Lake County Forest Preserve District.
The district has hosted Hike Lake County for more than 25 years to provide options for people to visit new trails and discover more about the many natural areas in Lake County.
Following social distancing rules by staying 6 feet apart, participants are encouraged to complete seven of 12 designated walks ranging in distance from 1 mile to slightly more than 2 miles by Nov. 30.
The trails have markers to help guide participants, especially those on the trails for the first time. Participants are encouraged to look for Hike Lake County logo signs at the trailhead to get started on the right route.
Those who finish the program earn free commemorative shields for walking sticks or a zipper pull. Each year features new trails and a colorful new shield or zipper pull (while supplies last). Participants are encouraged to bring their dogs on walks where they’re allowed. Dogs also reap rewards. Dogs who complete the program will earn free commemorative dog tags. Dog owners can buy Hike Lake County dog collars to show them off.
The program will take hikers through Lake County’s rich diversity of ecosystems, Buckardt said.
“More than 200 miles of trails can take you through wetlands, woodlands, prairies and habitats that perhaps you have never heard of – fens, marl areas, dunes and more,” she said.
Between 300 and 400 people officially take part every year, but the number of those who participate in Hike Lake County likely is higher, Buckardt said, especially this year.
Emily Miao of Libertyville discovered the program last year and truly hiked Lake County, completing all 12 designated walks. She intends to repeat the effort again this year and recently took on one of the walks – a 2.3-mile trail at McDonald Woods in Lindenhurst.
“Right now, with the COVID-19 pandemic we’re going through, I think this is more important than ever, just for the mental state and the physical state to reconnect with nature and simply enjoy being outdoors,” Miao said. “I think more than ever this is an incredible resource Lake County offers. I’m really glad I learned about the program, and I’m taking advantage of it. I encourage all my friends to do the same.”
Research shows spending time outdoors benefits physical, physiological, mental and emotional wellness, Buckardt said.
“You should participate for many reasons – to discover a new preserve or trail, to take time for reset on your mental health, to get some exercise, to spend time with your family creating memories,” she said.
Those are among the reasons Ronnie Belcher of Lake Villa decided to participate in Hike Lake County for the first time this year. His 12-year-old son, Shane, encouraged the family, wanting to become more active, Belcher said.
“We’re like, ‘Of course, let’s do it!’” Belcher said.
The family completed their first walk last weekend and plans to finish all of them.
“We did purchase a boat last year, so we’ve been out a lot on it. Since the boating season is kind of coming to an end, … this is a good, healthy alternative to water sports,” Belcher said. “I think the cooler weather is kind of leading into it.”
Participants can get started by printing out a travel log available at www.lcfpd.org/hlc and recording their walks.
To receive free dog tags, zipper pulls or commemorative shields for walking sticks, travel logs can be submitted online at www.lcfpd.org/hlc, brought to the Hike Lake County Center, 1899 W. Winchester Road in Libertyville, or mailed with a self-addressed stamped envelope to Lake County Forest Preserves, 1899 W. Winchester Road, Libertyville, IL 60048, by Jan. 31, 2021. Stop by the general offices in Libertyville to pick up your free commemorative materials weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The 2020 Hike Lake County locations include (trails 2 miles or longer count as two trails):
• Buffalo Creek, 18163 W. Checker Road, Long Grove; 1.9 miles
• Captain Daniel Wright Woods, 24830 St. Mary’s Road, Mettawa; 2.4 miles
• Cuba Marsh, 24205 W. Cuba Road, Deer Park; 1.6 miles
• Ethel’s Woods, 19330 Miller Road, Antioch; 1.3 miles
• Fort Sheridan, 117 Sheridan Road, Lake Forest, north entrance; 1.7 miles
• Grant Woods, 25405 W. Monaville Road, Ingleside, south entrance; 1.9 miles
• Greenbelt, 1110 Green Bay Road, North Chicago; 1.3 miles
• Lake Carina, 33919 Highway 21, Gurnee; 1.0 mile
• McDonald Woods, 19611 W. Grass Lake Road, Lindenhurst; 2.3 miles
• Old School, 28285 St. Mary’s Road, Mettawa; 1.3 miles
• Ray Lake, 23275 W. Erhart Road, Wauconda; 2.3 miles
• Van Patten Woods, 15838 W. Route 173, Wadsworth; 2.4 miles