‘Walk With Walker’ event comes to Shawano

Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Wisconsin first lady Tonette Walker, left, talks with Matty Mathison about some of the features of Shawano as the group leaves Kuckuk Park on Wednesday to return to Sturgeon Park. The walk was part of the Walk With Walker event held Wednesday by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.

Wisconsin first lady Tonette Walker joined more than 50 area residents for a stroll through some of Shawano’s outdoor amenities Wednesday with her Walk With Walker program.

Walker and the group got to see the amenities of Sturgeon Park, where thousands flock annually for the annual Wolf River sturgeon spawning, as well as the new barn quilt next to Judd Park and the learning centers along walking paths in Kuckuk Park.

This is the 68th Walk With Walker event, facilitated through the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, and the first for Shawano County. Walker’s husband, Scott Walker, had previously conducted similar walks in Milwaukee when he was the county executive to promote fitness and outdoor recreation, but she moved the idea to the state level when her husband became governor in 2011.

“Mrs. Walker came to the Department of Tourism and said, ‘I want to feature wonderful, unique, outdoor recreation and trails so that people can be healthy and then they can also understand and love the different parts of the state that have unique features to promote,” said Sarah Klavas, Wisconsin tourism deputy secretary. “By the end of the year, we’ll have done 70 walks under her partnership.”

Prior to the Shawano walk, Walk With Walker has visited Bayfield, Door County, Platteville, Boscobel and all over the state, according to Klavas.

“No matter where you go in the state, you can find wonderful outdoor recreation,” Klavas said. “That’s one of the reasons we wanted to be here, because of the awesome opportunities to take advantage of an area like Shawano — the people and the amenities.”

Walker said she has a soft spot for Shawano, remembering a vacation many years ago when she and her family vacationed along Shawano Lake. While the outdoor opportunities were abbreviated due to daily rain showers, Walker was pleased that sunny, mild weather greeted her arrival Wednesday.

“We had five kids in a cottage under the age of 5 years old. Our son Alex celebrated his first birthday here in Shawano,” Walker said. “We love Shawano, but it rained all week long.”

Walker said a friend had suggested she take the walking initiative to the state level, and she decided to utilize the Department of Tourism, which has a big reach despite having a smaller staff.

“We found in our first walk that we had 80-year-olds with canes and moms in strollers, and everybody was at their own pace,” Walker said. “That’s what’s so nice about this — you walk at your own pace, and then you get to hear about the area and what’s going on in your community, what people are concerned about.”

Nancy Smith, executive director for the Shawano Country Chamber of Commerce, informed Walker and others in attendance about the other changes the city is making to its park system, including a new splash pad at Memorial Park and massive renovations at the new Franklin Park.

“Those things are important,” Smith said. “The developments are not only important to residents, but our visitors, as well.”