Kirby Winter Wellness Walks brighten up season

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Deep Doshi

Lights line the edges of a walkway in Allerton Park on Tuesday.

By Jenni Kallenback, Staff Writer

Many people were stuck indoors for most of 2020 with few options for outdoor social activities because of COVID-19. People also typically stay inside more during the cold winter months, but the Kirby Winter Wellness Walks at Allerton Park provide a way for people to get outside and exercise, de-stress and safely socialize during this time.

Allerton Park and Retreat Center has been hosting the Wellness Walks for five years. Jordan Zech, manager of the Retreat Center, said this year’s walk has seen much greater attendance than past years.

Because of social distancing regulations, outdoor events are at a 25% capacity. The walk is a little over a mile through the formal gardens and natural areas of Allerton Park. Based on the length of the walk, 200 guests could attend at one time. The walks are from 5 p.m.-9 p.m.. Broken down by hour, 800 guests could attend each night.

“There were a lot of days that sold out. When we were planning it, it was kind of funny, we were like ‘Oh, there’s no way we’ll hit 800 a night,’ but we definitely have,” Zech said.

To maintain the walk’s limited capacity, guests have to sign up in advance online. The event is free and donation based. Zech says the walk was able to be bigger this year because of increased support from sponsors, but that donations are still especially needed this year.

The Center has been unable to host most of the events that bring in revenue, such as weddings, conferences and hotel bookings because of COVID-19.

“We have been relying more and more on community support financially, and it seems that the community felt the same way that we did about the importance of the walk this year because not only have we seen greater visitation, but we also have seen greater community support,” public engagement coordinator Mindy Brand said.

Zech says the walk was created to focus on the art in nature that is central to Allerton’s identity. The Park usually closes at sunset, so the walks showcase Allerton’s natural scenery decorated with lights. Some parts of the walk are lighted and some are dark, and some areas have music playing while others are silent so that participants can listen to nature. This stimulation of the senses is relaxing while guests are exercising at the same time.

“Just being out in green space and fresh air and quiet and listening to the sounds of nature just, whether or not you realize it, brings your heart rate down, it calms you, it soothes you,” Brand said.

Allerton has 1500 acres of outdoor natural space and 14 miles of hiking trails. Zech recommends bird-watching, especially after snow has fallen, while Brand encourages just getting out and walking the trails.

Robert Allerton often hosted creators at his home, and this year the park is beginning an In Residence program to highlight creators. The walk will showcase three light sculptures by artist John Bannon.

Bannon attended the University in the 80s and first experienced Allerton at that time. He approached the Center about showcasing some of his work that is well-suited to the lighted walk and the environment of Allerton.

A lot of his pieces are considered anamorphic sculptures, where the elements change depending on the viewer’s perspective.

“The way that the gardens and the pathways are lined up really straight is perfect for that kind of work. It guides the viewer to the right spot so they can’t help but see the image and the alignment and then as they walk around it the image changes,” Bannon said.

Bannon says he created one piece called Universe years ago and always wanted to display it in Allerton’s Sunken Garden. Another one of his pieces on display during the walk is called Eye Candy which is a large lit up piece of candy.

“It’s kind of an oddity, you wouldn’t expect to see that, but I feel that that’s kind of what Allerton is. One wouldn’t expect to see a big sprawling formal gardens and mansion in an area of agriculture,” Bannon said.

Kirby Medical Center is the primary sponsor of the Wellness Walks this year.

“It’s kind of a perfect relationship because Kirby understands the importance of getting out into nature and Allerton has that resource to provide,” Brand said.

The walks will continue throughout the rest of January.

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