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Woman Cleans, Hikes the Preserves

Paula Wallrich and her husband have lived in DuPage County for 34 years, raising two sons in what she describes as a hockey family.

“Our kids grew up playing ice hockey, which led us to making friends all over the globe through the sport,” she said. “We’ve hosted four exchange students who also shared this interest.”

Her husband and sons are also avid fishermen. Both her sons are married now, and Paula is the proud grandmother of her first grandson, who is now 18 months old.

Here’s her story.


Paula Wallrich loves to walk at Oldfield Oaks Forest Preserve in Darien.


Catching the Nature Bug

Before our kids were born, going back to when we were married in 1973, my husband and I used to camp a lot, in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Canada. We don't camp anymore, but I still feel the need to spend time with Mother Nature as much as possible.


The bridge at Oldfield Oaks Forest Preserve in Darien.

Discovering DuPage Forest Preserves

Around the year 2000, I started walking in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. That walk was 39.3 miles -- 26.2 miles on Saturday (the length of a marathon) and 13.1 miles on Sunday (a half marathon).

To train for that walk, I started hiking Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in Darien. I continued to participate in the Avon Walk for 10 years, and used Waterfall Glen as my training routine every year. Ever since then, I have been a regular visitor to many of the DuPage forest preserves.


Favorite Thing to Do in the Preserves

Walking, walking, walking. I own a bike but I never ride in the forest. The right speed, to me, is to slow down and enjoy each inch of the forest.

What Brings Her Back Time and Time Again

Being in the forest brings me peace and serenity. It clears my mind and helps me relax in these stressful and scary times.

COVID-19 has forced us to spend more and more time away from our friends and neighbors, and I've sort of claimed Oldfield Oaks Forest Preserve as my personal project as a result. I carry a "grabber tool" and a couple of plastic shopping bags, and I pick up trash as I walk. I think I've turned into the "Crazy Trash Lady at Oldfield Oaks" (LOL).


Paula Wallrich picks up trash during a recent walk at Oldfield Oaks Forest Preserve in Darien.

Favorite Forest Preserve and Time to Visit

I walk the trails at Oldfield Oaks three or four times a week. I also walk the perimeter of the property when I visit. This lengthens the distance I walk without walking the same trails over and over again. I also walk Waterfall Glen a couple times a month, but I usually don't walk the whole trail at once.

I'm usually in the forest at whatever time of day the weather is best, and I hike pretty much from April to December. I also love walking at Fullersburg Woods, Danada, St. James Farm, and Greene Valley.


Nature’s Lessons

I find the more time I spend in the forest, the better I feel. The air is fresh, the trees and plants are beautiful, the birds are singing. While I am on the trails and people see me cleaning up, I get a lot of thank you’s. I appreciate it, but it makes me feel great to be as kind to Mother Nature as she has been to me. I enjoy the woods more when all the litter is gone.


Paula Wallrich with her grandson during a visit to Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve in Oak Brook. Photo courtesy of Paula Wallrich


How Nature Inspires

I've told people I keep my sanity in the forest preserve. I love the peace and quiet. And look at the diversity in our forest! The trees, the flowers, the native plants. The deer, coyote, birds, bugs, snakes, and frogs. The rocks and streams, the woods and the meadows, all in such a relatively small space. It's a miracle!



Advice to Others

Our forest preserves provide a sanctuary from the stress of the world we live in. Our forest preserves restore themselves year after year.

As I walk through the woods, I see bird watchers, photographers, dog walkers, people with their mates, their kids, their elderly parents, runners, and folks like me, just enjoying the solace and the sun.

There are a million ways to enjoy our forests. Go out there and find out how you and your forest develop a relationship. I think there are endless ways to enjoy time in the woods.


Salt Creek in the winter at Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve in Oak Brook.


Favorite Nature Quote

There is a Native American proverb: "We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children." I think about that when I am in the forest.

Who knows how long these rocks and streams have been here? How long have these critters and trees been living here? I bring my grandson to the forest any time he is visiting us because I love sharing time with him there, and I want him to love the woods as much as I do. And I hope he does the same with his grandkids!


Paula Wallrich with her grandson during an October visit to Oldfield Oaks Forest Preserve in Darien. Photo courtesy of Paula Wallrich



If you have a fun or unique way of catching nature in our preserves and would like to be featured in a “Catching Nature” blog, please contact Deb Humiston at

Forest Preserve District of DuPage County

Photo of blog author Forest Preserve District of DuPage County
The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County welcomes more than 6.2 million visitors a year; and manages nearly 26,000 acres in 60 forest preserves containing prairies, woodlands and wetlands.

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