Mary Perez had no idea what to expect from a small ad she placed in the weekly Brown County Democrat newspaper all those years ago.
The Chicago transplant wanted to meet women who shared an interest in hiking.
Four showed up, answering her call to traverse beautiful Brown County on foot.
“There were four of us, we had so much fun,” Perez recalled. The ladies started with a 3-mile loop around Sundance Lake, in the southeast corner.
After that inaugural hike, Perez said, the group all agreed: Let’s do this again. So they did—and still do.
The Walking Women of Brown County celebrated a decade together in March.
» Photos from the club's hikes
The women hike three mornings a month—meeting spot is the Nashville IGA parking lot—with an itinerary taking them from the Great Smokys to Shawnee National Forest in Illinois.
But the group is never far from its own beautiful backyard, especially come fall.
“I don’t think there’s anything prettier than Brown County,” Perez said. “I can’t emphasize enough the number of places there are to go in this area—Sycamore Land Trust, state parks, nature preserves, state forests.”
The beauty brought them together, but friendship has sustained them. They travel together, some paint together. Perez, 71, learned that one of the members shared not only a love for the trail but also for Shakespeare. The two traveled to the annual Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada until the woman died a few years ago. Twenty-five or so Walking Women were there at the memorial service.
“We’re a close-knit group,” Perez said. “All the wonderful friendships that have come out of this group—great friends; it’s pretty incredible.”
The year-round group has grown from the starting five to a membership of 65 or so. Anywhere from 10-20 women usually show up on any given walk.
Devera Jennings is there every time for every walk.
“I’m the one that always comes, I go to all of them,” she said. “They know they can always count on me.”
Jennings, 58, discovered the club and with it a love for hiking the way most good things in life come to us—word of mouth. Her aunt took an aerobics class with Mary, who had already started the club. Jennings enjoyed walking, but had not done much hiking. She decided to give it a try.
That was eight years ago, and Jennings has been a regular since. Her husband, Greg, also has been bitten by the outdoor walking bug.
The popularity of the Walking Women sparked a monthly co-ed group in 2006.
Jennings said the hikes have improved Greg’s health.
“It’s good for my husband; he has diabetes,” she said. “It’s really good for him—one of the best things he can do.”
That they can do—together. And together with friends.
“We’re always together,” Jennings said of the hikes, whether co-ed or women-only. “Some are faster hikers, some stay in the middle. There’s no pace, whatever is comfortable.
“We’re not what you would call real fast. We like to look at things. We look at everything—fungus, plants, flowers. We all like nature.”
And what better time to see nature than in the fall.
Knowing thousands come out to see those same views, the club tends to steer clear of Brown County State Park.
“We stay out of the park during October, leave that for the tourists,” Perez said. “We have it the other 11 months. We have time to be out during the week, let them enjoy the weekend.”
Perez sends out a newsletter to both groups with a description of the upcoming walks. The hikes range from 3 to 10 miles with a focus on nature.
And for some, a new focus on fitness.
“A number of women got into being more fit so they could do the walks, some going to the Y a little more,” Perez said.
When Perez isn’t walking with the local groups she started, she travels with the Sierra Club. She recently returned from Glacier National Park in Montana. But she never stays too long from her beloved Brown County, always looking for new paths—and for people to share them with as she did 10 years ago.
She continues to place an ad in the Brown County Democrat every month in hopes of attracting new people to join.
Upcoming walking women fall walks/hikes
• Oct. 16:
Club Jackson Creek Trail in Yellowwood Clean-up (the group is helping maintain the trail)
• Oct. 20-22:
Lafayette — Trip to stay on the Purdue campus, walk the Wabash Heritage Trail.
• Nov. 10:
Clabber Girl Museum & Indiana State University at Terre Haute — Museum tour, cooking demonstration and stroll through campus, possibly walk through park at Wabash River.
• November (date TBA):
Goose Pond — Overnight trip to Greene County to see the migrating birds
• Nov. 20:
Club Cornett Cemetery in Hoosier National Forest — Trail exploration in the Hickory Ridge area, walk is about 8-9 miles. Bring your own lunch.
• Nov. 24:
Annual pre-Thanksgiving walk — Walk in the Brown County Park on the horse trails and lunch in Nashville.
Take a hike with the group
Anyone can join Walking Women of Brown County and the co-ed club.
Cost: $15 registration fee
Contact founder Mary Perez at 812-988-7087