It’s a cool summer morning at Naper Settlement, and Julie Cunningham can’t take her eyes off a little red pedometer.
“Only 100 more minutes, then I hit my next mark,” she said.
A “mark” for Cunningham means that she gets a fresh set of tickets for Naperville events: concerts, historic speaking events and Oktoberfest. It’s an incentive for the Wednesday Walking Club, a group that’s getting residents onto the streets of historic Naper Settlement.
“Last year, the city had a health initiative, and they asked different organizations how they might participate in that,” said Nancy Smith, the Settlement’s director of learning experiences. “A fabulous coincidence, because our staff had been talking about how to get the community gathered at Naper Settlement.”
The Wednesday Walking Club was born. Inspired by the Naperville Public Library’s Healthy, Wealthy and Wise program — an initiative that aimed to improve the financial and physical health of residents — walkers began gathering at the Settlement’s Pre-Emption House Visitor Center.
It grew quickly. A group of regulars took shape, and they brought friends. The statistics from April through June speak loudly: 247 people came to Wednesday Walking Club, walking a collective 14,044 minutes.
Something’s drawing Naperville residents to walk laps around the Settlement at 8 a.m. It could be the free refreshments; it could be the complementary pedometers. However, it’s the pleasant scenery of Naperville Settlement that’s mentioned the most. One word is frequently used: beautiful.
“We have a beautiful 12 acres,” Smith said.
“Our grounds … they’re just beautiful,” said Cindy Lackore, the Settlement’s lead museum educator.
“I’m always taking photos of the beautiful flowers,” said Cunningham, former president of the Naperville Woman’s Club and active member of the Walking Club.
The Naperville Settlement has many sights for walkers: 12 acres containing a 19th-century mansion, a Civil War-era church and brick paths winding through lush gardens and the former George Martin Estate.
“It all changes from season to season,” Lackore said. “The walking has a lot of variety, too: uphill, downhill, flat. It can be a bit of a challenge for some people.”
While the Settlement pulls walkers in with its beautiful sights, there’s an agenda at the club’s core.
“It’s part of our mission — to connect with the community, to offer unique experiences,” said Donna Defalco, Naper Settlement’s marketing and sales representative. “We’re the city’s museum, so this is our outreach to the community, to introduce them to the Settlement, our community and how they can become involved.”
The club is certainly getting residents involved. According to Defalco, some walkers have become active with the Settlement, volunteering at events and performing community service. One group of walkers even formed their own yoga club that meets monthly at the Settlement.
The ripple effect of the Wednesday Walking Club reflects the lasting strength of the Healthy, Wealthy and Wise program. The former program’s longevity is clear: Edward Hospital still provides the club’s pedometers as a result of it. The wave of involvement has reached a local shop, Reality Fitness in downtown Naperville, which pays for the walkers’ granola bars and bottled water.
“We have this oasis, and it’s right here in downtown Naperville,” said Smith, who reminds walkers that the focus of the club is health. “Walking is good; it’s a stress reducer and gives people a chance to enjoy nature.”Tags: health, Naper Settlement
The Wednesday Walking Club meets weekly from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. through Oct. 29 at Naper Settlement, 523 S. Webster St. Walkers must sign in before the walk and sign out by 9 a.m. Visit www.napersettlement.org for more information.
Other walking programs at Naper Settlement:
Mill to Moser Walking Tour — 2 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 13 from Centennial Beach, 500 W. Jackson Ave., Naperville — During this guided walking tour, take a step through time from the location of Naperville’s earliest settlement to the creation of Harold Moser’s first of many subdivisions. Highlights include descriptions of architectural styles and the histories of former Naperville families. Tour includes about 18 blocks of walking. All ages welcome. Contact 630-420-6010; Cost: $12 a person; $10 for Naperville Heritage Society sustaining member.
Railroad Ramble Walking Tour — 2 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 5, starts at the southwest corner of Burlington Square Park, 307 N. Ellsworth St., Naperville: Take a walk along Naperville’s east side, along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail line and immediate neighborhood. The history and influence of rail service in Naperville, including the cultural impact of the railroad on the community, its industry and commerce art and architecture will be discussed. From its contentious roots to poignant memorials, the railroad in Naperville has played an important role in shaping the history of Naperville. Tour includes about 14 blocks of walking. Contact 630-420-6010; cost $12 a person; $10 for Naperville Heritage Society sustaining member.