Big turnout for Walker’s walk

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Wisconsin First Lady Tonette Walker walks along a path in Beloit's Beckman Mill Park. The walks are meant to highlight the state's natural wonders and promote fitness. Beckman Mill is 52 acres and features savanna, forested areas, a fishing pond, sawmill display and fully restored grist mill.

BELOIT — Beloit may have broken a record associated with Wisconsin First Lady Tonette Walker.

Walk With Walker event organizers speculated that Tuesday’s walk through Beckman Mill Park may have had the largest crowd in the event’s history with nearly 100 participants.

The first lady has walked more than 50 nature paths around Wisconsin for Walk With Walker, which promotes fitness and spotlights local attractions.

“It’s about connecting with neighbors and friends and talking to them about what’s important to them, but it’s also about getting moving,” Walker said.

Walker said the event was originally supposed to focus completely on fitness but needed to change after only women with strollers and older people came.

The fitness component is still a big part of the walks, but it’s also about discussion, she said.

Participants have talked with Walker about schools, roads, what it’s like to be an “empty nester” and the weather, especially on very hot days, she said.

A walk is scheduled for each month in the spring, summer and fall.

The event partners with the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. Walker said the walk in Beloit was particularly special, because Beloit is home to Wisconsin Tourism Secretary Stephanie Klett, who attended Tuesday’s event.

“(These walks are) an opportunity for the community to come out and see something that’s in their own backyard that maybe they haven’t ever experienced for themselves,” Klett said.

Organizers had a difficult time deciding which park they wanted Walker to visit, Klett said.

Big Hill Park and the downtown and Riverside Park along the riverfront were considered but Beckman Mill Park — with its nature trails, 148-year-old grist mill, pond, wetlands and forest — won.

Beloit resident Gloria Fellows said she would have picked Beckman Mill Park, too.

“We wanted to meet Mrs. Walker,” Fellows said. “She’s sweet. Beckman Mill has done so many nice things. It’s just so beautiful here.”

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