Hike near home turns into mission to see every DuPage County forest preserve
The pandemic wiped out the traveling she does as district manager for Lego and temporarily closed the Zanies Comedy Clubs where he works booking comics and doing publicity. So Kim and Rick Gieser decided to hike around the forest preserve near their Carol Stream home.
That turned out so nicely, they hiked a second preserve. Then a third. Now the couple have visited 50 local preserves, some more than once.
"We're making return visits, especially now with the leaves changing," Rick says.
"We're going back and filling in the cracks," Kim says, noting how they'll return to a forest preserve but hike a different trail every time.
Rick, 56, grew up in Carol Stream, and the couple have lived in town for most of their 27-year marriage. They used to take their son, Ricky, to the forest preserve near their home. But they weren't really hikers.
"I was built for air-conditioning," Rick quips. "But I like to be outdoors. I do."
Kim, 55, grew up in the small town of Bedford, Indiana, which is known as the "Limestone Capital of the World," where she and Rick met as students at Indiana University in nearby Bloomington. "I had fossils in my backyard," she says. "Woods were all around us."
Their son, who turns 21 this month, is a junior at the University of Illinois, where he's majoring in environmental science and interested in paleontology. He and friends have found fossils during hikes in Oglesby, near Starved Rock State Park.
Looking for a way to get out of their home offices and get some exercise, Rick and Kim decided to give hiking a try.
"It just sort of grew out of the pandemic," she says. "I travel a lot for work, and I haven't traveled. The pandemic was driving me crazy in early spring."
They'd count their steps while walking the neighborhood.
"We've seen the neighbors painted their door. We see that fence that needs to be fixed. Let's see something else," Rick remembers thinking. A village trustee in Carol Stream, Rick has volunteered with many civic organizations and was the village's Male Citizen of the Year in 2011. He grabbed a Forest Preserve District of DuPage County map, and the couple developed a competitive desire to hit all the preserves that have parking lots.
"We take a pink highlighter and highlight every one we visit," Kim says.
"Along the Salt Creek, there's a lot of smaller trails," Rick says. "You could do a short walk."
"And then on to the next," says Kim, completing his thought.
Sometimes they take sandwiches and have a picnic. Other times, they enjoy outdoor dining at nearby restaurants as a way to support small businesses. They've seen plenty of deer, snakes, turtles, chipmunks, hawks and other birds, and they have downloaded an app that identifies trees, plants, animals and birds. They've seen waterfalls and old mills.
"You could really see the history of the county through some of these preserves," says Rick, who has served on the Carol Stream Historical Society board since 1999. "It's kind of like a time machine because you are seeing what the early settlers saw."
Hikes in the evening or on weekends give the couple a chance to spend quality time together and forget the chaos of the modern world.
"This has been a great opportunity to reconnect with nature," Rick says. "The whole world seems to be collapsing around us, but you walk through nature and the glass becomes half full."