July 3, 2008 · Updated 7:48 PM
"Wednesday mornings are special on Whidbey Island trails. It's the day when the Whidbey Walkers, a group of mostly retired women who have hiked the trails of Whidbey and surrounding areas since 1969, walk, talk and stomp all over them.I enjoy being outside, love walking and most of all being with wonderful people, said Lidabeth Hicks, the group's unofficial leader and a retired Coupeville school teacher. We have our lunch and sit on log or a rock and just enjoy nature.I'm a tree hugger so I have plenty of trees to choose from, Dorothy Hatch said. She is originally from England and is the speedster of the bunch.Dorothy's usually leading off, but she's kind enough to stop and wait for us, Marie Vallquist of Oak Harbor said. The group started in 1969 when Eileen Criscolua, Ethel Libbey and Margaret Walgren started walking together as a fun way to get together and exercise, and over time more and more people found out about the group and joined in. Now, about 25 people from all over Whidbey Island participate in the walks at least occasionally, although none are original members.The members are very loyal and dedicated to the weekly hikes. As Vallquist said, she took time off from the group and went to work at Whidbey General Hospital - instead of the other way around.Since 1980, Hicks has kept a record of hike dates, trails and number of people that showed up, and she knows most of Whidbey Island's trails well.We've been known to get confused, but as long as we're back by dark no one will worry about us, Hicks said.The Whidbey Walkers hike trails off-island at places such as Bayview State Park, Swinomish Slough, La Conner and Washington Park in Anacortes. I enjoy the beautiful scenery and the fun we have together, Carol Chaney of Oak Harbor said.Bernise Norton said that after traveling and hiking all over the world in places such as Australia and Alaska she appreciates Whidbey Island even more. We're always glad to come home. she said. When we hit that bridge we clap. The Whidbey Walkers hold an annual Christmas party where they pull out a scrapbook of pictures from their walks, renew friendships and reminisce. They're all good companions, conversationalists, and they're all really compatible, Vallquist said.Frances Sweeney, a Greenbank resident, loves the great views from Whidbey Island trails, the sharing of knowledge among the ladies and the weather. Has anyone mentioned that since 1969 Wednesday mornings have been wonderful? she said. They walk rain or shine, and the group has cancelled its walk due to weather only a few times since it started. Kelley Sweeney, Frances' husband, started walking with the group in 1995. They told me to stay in the back and keep my mouth shut, he said jokingly. These strong, physically fit women are an inspiration to me. "