Brenda Willis has many vivid memories from the almost 10 years she’s been a volunteer with Wild Walkers, a group that meets twice a month to walk through the region’s parks and nature preserves.
"Personally, I loved seeing the eagles at Salamonie last February," she said. "but I also like the skeletons we’ve come upon. It reminds me of the circle of life.
"We saw a puffball the size of a soccer ball one year. And seeing the power of nature after the 2012, I think, summer storms, with all the trees leaning or down, made me stop and think."
It’s a group of people who enjoy hiking whether it is at a city, county or state park, an ACRES Land Trust preserve or a local wetland.
There are a variety of people who attend the walks, and everyone seems to look for different things.
"Some of us are bird people, some of us are fungi people, others are tree people," Willis said. "I think we even have some geology lovers. A little bit of everything.
"It’s a wonderful group, even when there’s just a few. Everyone gets along and there are people from all walks of life. Interesting people and interesting personalities."
There are usually three unofficial groups with the Wild Walkers: those who are there for exercise, those who are there for socializing and strolling and those who look at everything.
"Some of us start with one of the three groups and end with one of the other groups," Willis said. "We have a few who are very knowledgeable about a lot of things."
The group started its 2016 schedule with a walk and carry-in at Salomon Farm on Friday. They will travel to Stark Nature Preserve in LaGrange County on Jan. 22.
Carpooling is available for the hikes outside Allen County, and all the hikes are within an hour’s drive.
When Willis started with the group in 2006, the walks were put on hold through the summer.
Now the group, which has grown, walks year-round.
"The number of participants at each hike varies," Willis said. "I’ve seen as few as three for a hike, and as many as 32 (on) our last hike at Dustin Preserve in December.
"I have seen significant growth over the past year and a half or two. Though I don’t always record the number of participants, I do remember when we had just eight or 10 ‘regulars.’ Now we easily have 16 to 20 ‘regulars.’ "
Poor weather doesn’t necessarily cancel hikes since the group is self-directed, and the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department doesn’t provide staffers. It is at the discretion of the hikers whether conditions allow them to participate.
"We have ‘snow birds’ who leave us during the winter," Willis said, "and return in the more favorable Fort Wayne weather months."
No matter the weather, park or time of year, there will always be things to see on a Wild Walkers hike.
"Large spiderwebs woven across the trail back-lit by morning sunshine and kissed with dew are always beautiful sights," Willis said, "and of course, there’s nothing like turning around on a quiet snowy morning and finding you’re not 10 feet away from a doe and her two young ones.
"That doesn’t happen too often, but I do remember that instance from the winter’s hike when only three of us attended. I suppose we were quiet enough that we did not scare her away."
For more information or to be added to the email distribution group, contact Amy Hicks at the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department at 427-6005 or firstname.lastname@example.org.