Hilliard Hikes, a free program in its second season that is offered by the Hilliard Recreation and Parks Department, is designed to encourage people to get outside and walk in the winter months.
But some participants find it also provides much more than exercise.
“I desperately wanted to meet people and get outside to do something,” said Bonnie LaFleur, 79, of Hilliard.
LaFleur described herself as an “extrovert” as she and two other women, each 70-something, walked along the Heritage Rail Trail on Jan. 19 with two staff members from the recreation and parks department.
Hilliard Hikes was established last year by recreation supervisor Amy Van Huffel. It is a seasonal companion program to a weekly bicycle-riding event in the summer months.
Hilliard Hikes participants meet at 10 a.m. each Wednesday in January, February and March at one of four locations: Roger A. Reynolds Municipal Park, Homestead Park, Prairie Oaks Metro Park and the Heritage Rail Trail.
The location rotates and each week’s location is listed through the recreation and parks page of the city’s website, hilliardohio.gov.
Participants are encouraged but not required to register in advance, but those who do receive reminder notices, and registering also provides the city with an estimate of the number of expected participants, said Lindsey Dembowski, a recreation coordinator.
Although the snow was melting off on Jan. 19 and the skies had brightened by 10 a.m., the number of hikers was below the typical number of about 8 to 10, Dembowski said.
The Hilliard Hikes events are scheduled for one hour; participants walk for 30 minutes in a chosen direction and then return.
Hilliard resident Karen Mustard, 70, said she exercises daily, including bicycle rides whenever possible, and she often does so alone.
“I enjoy the opportunity to walk and exercise with other people,” Mustard said.
LaFleur also is an experienced biker but said she has trended toward walking as she approaches the age of 80.
“This gets me out of the house,” said LaFleur, who lives alone and laments that too many people in her age group whom she knows no longer are capable of her level of exercise.
On Jan. 19, LaFleur and the others in the group on covered about 2 ½ miles from the trail head to nearly Cosgray Road and back.
“I want to get out and see things,” said LaFleur, who on other days walks at Roger A. Reynolds Municipal Park, both for the scenery but also because it is a busy park in the event she would need help.
Donna Olenhouse, 71, of Hilliard, walks at least three days a week.
When not conversing with others during Hilliard Hikes events, Olenhouse said, she uses her alone time walking to meditate and pray.
“I love the idea of getting out in the winter, meeting new people and staying active,” said Olenhouse, who discovered during the first season of Hilliard Hikes that Mustard also is a member of St. Brendan the Navigator Catholic Church in Hilliard.
For more information about Hilliard Hikes and other recreation and parks programs, go to hilliardohio.gov/classes-camps.
This article originally appeared on ThisWeek: Hilliard Hikes parks and recreation program provides opportunity for exercise, camaraderie