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Creek Walking – A whole new way to experience the outdoors

I experienced Turtle Creek a whole new way the other day.

It was an unusually hot September day, around 90 degrees, the water had warmed up and my son asked me to accompany him while he walked the creek and fished. When you’re college-aged son wants to hang out with you, you don’t turn him down! So we headed out and picked a 1.25  mile section that we knew was about knee-high to thigh-high depth and started our slow adventure on the creek.

Creek Walking Turtle Creek (5)What an amazing experience! It’s a whole new way to explore this hidden gem in the Beloit area. I am an avid kayaker and have paddled on Turtle Creek many times, but this was a totally different experience…it was slow and deliberate. You have to look down all the time to watch where to place your feet, so you notice more of the creek bed. Many times I’ve been kayaking and drifting by something I’d like to look at, but it was too much effort to stop and get out.  It’s also a great way to pick up garbage along the way.  If you like fishing, bring along your fishing pole. My son caught and released over 30 fish on our  walk.

When we walked the creek, we had not had significant rain for almost 4 weeks, so the creek was fairly low (3.8 ft at the Carver’s Rock gauge) and very clear.  I wouldn’t go on creek walking if I couldn’t see the bottom (or if the water was higher), as Turtle Creek’s bottom changes dramatically while you walk. There were completely sandy sections with no rocks. There were frequent sections that had stones the size of a large fist littering the whole creek bottom, there were areas that had clay deposits, and other areas that are gravelly.

Walking along a creek is a uniquely rewarding experience for anyone with a sense of adventure. Whether you want to exercise, learn about nature, be inspired, or simply get together with friends, creek walking is a unique way to experience the great outdoors in the Beloit area.

Why Do Creek Walking?

  • It’s an inexpensive way to experience Turtle Creek, only requiring old tennis shoes and a walking stick or two.
  • You can immerse yourself totally in experience a natural and wild part of the Beloit area that you can only access via Turtle Creek.
  • The simple pleasure of creek walking presents us with an opportunity to embrace our creeks as the precious resource that they are.
  • It can be a fun family outing. Check tips below before you go.

Things to know before you go Creek Walking

  • Be prepared to encounter very uneven terrain. This is not something to do for someone who is not steady on their feet.
  • Start with a small section to ensure you’re comfortable Creek Walking.
  • To keep your balance, I recommend bringing along one or two trekking poles (available at local stores such as Walmart for under $20.) You can use a sturdy stick or two, but the trekking poles have straps that go over your wrists and I found this handy when I was getting items out of my backpack or bending down to look at something. They are also very lightweight.
  • Wear old tennis shoes or water shoes. I wore my kayak water booties that have a nice “grippy” sole. I had previously worn my Keene sandals that strap on, but stones kept getting stuck in them that I had to remove. Don’t wear flip flops!
  • Wear quick dry shorts or swim trunks (no cotton). Waders are an option, but not needed if the water is warm enough.
  • You might encounter some muck – for the most part the creek bottom is gravel, sand, stone. But the edges are sometimes mucky (like up to your shins mucky!)
  • Go early in the morning or on a weekday to have a better chance at having the creek to yourself!
  • Secure phones and keys in a Ziploc bag or dry bag and place it in a backpack. There was one spot that I had to take the backpack off my back and carry it over my head to keep it dry.
  • It’s a bit more difficult (and noisier) to walk upstream. But it’s a good work out!
  • This is a great family activity if you pick the right location that is level and not deep. I would choose a spot that you can do a short round trip to see how everyone in your group reacts to this experience. (It’s not for everyone!) It might be fun to bring the smaller kids in a raft (lifejackets required) and pull them while you walk. You might bring a magnifying glass and small plastic container to view any creatures or treasures you might find.
  • Wear sunglasses – Depending on the time of day, there is quite a glare coming off the water. My son wore polarized sunglasses and could see so much more of the creek bottom and the fish swimming around that I could with regular sunglasses.  You might want to wear “croakies” to prevent losing your sunglasses in the water.
  • Wear a backpack to carry water, first aid supplies, and a bag to place garbage you find along the way. Pack a snack or picnic.
  • Creek Walking is not recommended for the person that is worried about something touchy their legs (often weeds and leaves will drift by, caressing your legs).
  • You are not trespassing as long as you stay in the water. Respect landowner’s property. WI DNR rules: Members of the public may use any exposed shore area of a stream without the permission of the landowner only if it is necessary to exit the body of water to bypass an obstruction. (or high water ~ my note)
  • Click here for put in locations for Turtle Creek. Ensure you scout the area you plan to walk, as there are deep sections of the creek.
  • Pick the right section – we walked from Smith Road Bridge (near Tiffany Bridge) to Sweet Allyn Park (there is one part just before Sweet Allyn Park that it gets deeper – chest high) Be prepared to encounter deeper water (there was a short section that reached chest high, and we got out and walked for a bit around it)
  • You can either do a round trip (walk a bit then walk back) or one way like we did, leaving a car at your takeout to get a ride back to your put in spot.
  • Check your shoes after your hike for any hitchhikers. Some creeks have invasive mussels (not Turtle Creek!) that we don’t want to transport around, and they can be very tiny! Remove all plants, animals, and mud from your footwear. It is recommended to soak waders, boots and other equipment in a salt water solution (2 gallons water to 1/3 cup salt) for 24 hours or you can make a bleach solution (¼ cup bleach per gallon of water) and soak for 15 minutes.
  • Leave no trace. Do your best to not disturb the creek bottom and the rocks. There are many macroinvertebrates that live in the creek bottom that are vital to the health of our streams, please don’t disturb their habitat.
  • Know your limits and consider your safety.
  • To learn more about Turtle Creek visit or join the Facebook group.

By Therese Oldenburg, Wisconsin Master Naturalist, President of Be Active Outdoors, Inc.

Celebrate the Grand Opening of the Rock River Trail – June 3

Therese Oldenburg of Be Active Outdoors is organizing the grand opening celebration for the Rock River Trail to be held on Saturday, June 3, 2017, 10-11am at the Rotary River Center, 1160 S Riverside Drive, Beloit, WI with events held in both Beloit, WI and South Beloit, IL. Events will be held in the Beloit/South Beloit area that celebrate the trail, including paddling, hiking, flying, biking, horseback riding, history and chocolate! In addition, communties along the 320 miles of the trail will also be holding events during the week of June 3-10, 2017.

See all the Grand Opening events

BAO involved with forming Nature-Based Collaborative Network – Wisconsin Illinois Nature Network for Kids (WINN)

winn for kids beloitNew Nature-Based Collaborative Network Forming in Stateline Area—Wisconsin Illinois Nature Network for Kids (WINN)

BELOIT, WI,  – February 15, 2017 — Healthier, happier children and families was the focus of a recent meeting of a group of environmental educators, health officials, park administrators, teachers, and conservationists at Welty Environmental Center. The intention of the meeting was to introduce a new collaborative effort, WINN for Kids, to organizations in the Stateline community that have a stake in developing children who are happier, healthier, and better engaged in school as a result of being outdoors and connected to nature on a regular basis.

Inaugural meeting of WINN for Kids

Inaugural meeting of WINN for Kids

WINN for Kids (Wisconsin Illinois Nature Network) will be a collaborative organization that will initially focus on the communities of Beloit, South Beloit, Rockton, and Roscoe, with future expansion envisioned. The representatives steering this collaboration are Heidi Andre, head of the science department at Beloit Memorial High School; Therese Oldenburg, from Nature at the Confluence and Be Active Outdoors; and Brenda Plakans, from Welty Environmental Center. The concept of WINN for Kids was inspired by CiNCA (Children in Nature Collaborative of Austin) in Austin, TX, a successful organization started in 2010 that has grown to 41 member organizations.

“I met the CiNCA team at a conference and was inspired in what they are doing in Austin and felt that our region would benefit from the same type of collaboration and focus”, said Therese Oldenburg. “WINN for Kids will offer the opportunity to envision and shape the future of our communities’ neighborhoods, education system, health care system, public health, recreation, and business development with the natural world as a central organizing principle. These efforts will offer our communities an opportunity to stand out, and to enhance and broadcast our region’s quality of life.”

The initial WINN for Kids meeting was facilitated by Pam J. Clark Reidenbach from the Northern Illinois Center for Nonprofit Excellence (NICNE), to determine the initiative’s mission. Using small-group work from the initial meeting to define goals and mission, WINN for Kids will hold a second meeting on March 16.  This second meeting will expand the invite list to other key organizations that are vested in the overall impact of the project, to help identify its goals and metrics. The Stateline Community Foundation is providing the startup funds to establish the framework for the group.

The desired outcome from these two meetings is to structure a plan to create a formalized collaborative network of organizations working towards the common goal of creating a healthier regional community.  “It was very energizing to get a group of like-minded organizations in the room, sharing our ideas of how to get kids and their families outside and the implications for ‘normalizing nature’ in our community.  I look forward to the ongoing conversations and seeing how these ideas become a part of Stateline children’s daily lives,” said Plakans.

Organizations or individuals that are interested in attending the March 16 meeting or would like to be notified about further developments may contact Therese Oldenburg at  



Let The Trees Heal | Shinrin Yoku (Forest Therapy)

Go to a Forest. Walk slowly. Breathe. Open all your senses. This is the healing way of Shinrin-yoku Forest Therapy, the medicine of simply being in the forest.

Article From

Shinrin-yoku is a term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” It was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. Researchers primarily in Japan and South Korea have established a robust body of scientific literature on the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest. Now their research is helping to establish shinrin-yoku and forest therapy throughout the world.

Shinrin Yoku Forest Therapy Therese Oldenburg Wisconsin (Custom)The idea is simple: if a person simply visits a natural area and walks in a relaxed way there are calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to be achieved.

We have always known this intuitively. But in the past several decades there have been many scientific studies that are demonstrating the mechanisms behind the healing effects of simply being in wild and natural areas. (some of this research is available here). For example, many trees give off organic compounds that support our “NK” (natural killer) cells that are part of our immune system’s way of fighting cancer.

The scientifically-proven benefits of Shinrin-yoku include:

  • Boosted immune system functioning, with an increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells.
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Reduced stress
  • Improved mood
  • Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
  • Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
  • Increased energy level
  • Improved sleep

Just as impressive are the results that we are experiencing as we make this part of our regular practice:

  • Deeper and clearer intuition
  • Increased flow of energy
  • Increased capacity to communicate with the land and its species
  • Increased flow of eros/life force
  • Deepening of friendships
  • Overall increase in sense of happiness

Opening our senses to nature also develops our intuition. We learn to contact in new ways the world around us.

We recognize that forest therapy approaches such as Shinrin-yoku have roots in many cultures throughout history. John Muir wrote, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home. Wilderness is a necessity.”

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Compiled by Therese Oldenburg, Wisconsin Master Naturalist. Want to learn more about Forest Therapy in Wisconsin and Illinois? Send us an email:

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The Rock River – An Underappreciated Local and Regional Natural Asset

By Walter Loos
Executive Director, Be Active Outdoors, Inc.

I hope everyone has been following the recent efforts of the Rock River Trail Initiative Council to establish a multi-use trail of recreational, scenic and historical interest and significance along the 385 miles the river runs through Wisconsin and Illinois. This truly is a tremendous undertaking, and something that should have everyone’s fullest attention and support. It has only been through the council’s tireless dedication over the last couple of years that the Rock River basin has started to be seen as the local and regional natural asset that it is.

Unfortunately, for many years, the Rock River basin, along with many of our regional and national waterways, has faced its share of challenges and neglect issues. The stigma assigned to the Rock River basin has not been created by one single culprit. Rather, it is the combination of past use abuses, the failure to recognize the area as a treasured asset, and a range of current-day naivety that has helped paint an unflattering picture of the Rock River. The council is well on its way of meeting one of its primary objectives of establishing the Rock River Water Trail and achieving designation as a state and national recreation water trail. See full story

Rock River Trail Gains National Water Trail Status!

The Rock River Water Trail has been designated into the National Water Trails System by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, according to an announcement by the National Park Service in Washington, D.C. The official letter of designation and plaque have been received by the trail’s founder and coordinator, Frank Schier, editor and publisher of this paper.

The National Water Trails System is a distinctive national network of exemplary water trails of local and regional significance that are cooperatively supported and sustained. The trails system has been established to protect and restore America’s rivers, shorelines and waterways and to increase access to outdoor recreation on shorelines and waterways. See full article Congratulations to Frank Schier and the rest of the individuals that helped make the designation of the Rock River as a National Water Way a reality.

Be Active Outdoors Supports Aurora Downtown Canoe Chute

Aurora Downtown Canoe Chute Fund

Aurora Downtown Canoe Chute

The Aurora Amped Up Adventure Race will benefit Aurora Downtown Canoe Chute. The canoe chute is a by-pass of a dam on the Fox River that is located in the heart of the community. It’s original intention was to create a safe passage for paddlers on the Fox River. Unfortunately, the current design lacks certain features now considered vital, and actually hampers the ability for paddlers to safely pass through the by-pass without spilling out of their boat. Local paddlers have been working for many years to get the Canoe Chute re-designed.

Hollywood Casino has taken a leadership role in supporting paddlers efforts to improve recreation on the Fox River, by signing on as the Title Sponsor for the Aurora Amped Up Adventure Race in Aurora. In addition, Scott Shipley, who just completed the design and construction of the London 2012 London Olympic Kayaking facility, has also jumped on board, and has donated new updated concept plans for the Aurora Canoe Chute. Read below for more information about the Aurora Downtown Canoe Chute.


Phase One Aurora Downtown Canoe Chute

The Aurora Canoe Chute was one of the first Urban Bypass Channels in the US. Unfortunately, good intentions alone do not make a good Canoe Chute. When the Canoe Chute was first proposed as one of the first elements of the Fox River Water Trail, it drew little interest from city fathers, primarily because the project involved expensive under-water surveying and there was no proposal to pay for it. Then shortly afterwards, Riverboat Gambling was approved for Illinois oldest Industrial cities as a way to revitalize these ‘rust belt’ communities. Hollywood Casino was quick to offer to pay for the underwater surveying as both part of their own waterfront construction project to build a modern Parking Deck and the riverfront Fox Walk, Aurora’s new riverfront pedestrian walkway system. They recognized the validity of the claims that the Canoe Chute would bring recreational users and a valuable new image to Downtown Aurora, so the city scrambled to include the Canoe Chute into the construction timetable of the Hollywood Casino.

But because there was no input from the paddling community, the Aurora Canoe Chute’s original design lacked certain features now considered vital. There were other design features that actually hampered paddler’s efforts to transit through it without spilling out of their boats.

Aurora Downtown Whitewater Park Concept

Local paddlers have been working for many years to get the Canoe Chute re-designed. These efforts have repeatedly been financially supported by Hollywood Casino and include Aurora Downtown Canoe Chute Concept Drawingscreated by noted Whitewater Park designer and former Olympic Kayaker Scott Shipley. Mr. Shipley’s plans are twofold: Phase One is a redesign of the Canoe Chute so that it offers a safe and non technical passage around the dangerous downtown Aurora Dams. This design should be class 1 and should enable even inner tubes and Rafts to use the chute in addition to Canoes and Kayaks. It also includes a larger drop pool # 3, which would be suitable as an instruction venue for small Whitewater Kayaking classes.

Phase Two involves eliminating the fatal design flaws of the two Low Head Dams adjacent to the Canoe Chute. This will be done by modifying the dams to create a Whitewater Park where the fatal ‘keeper’ hydraulic current at the base of each dam is eliminated so even if a person was swept over the dams, they would be ejected downstream into shallow water, rather than stuck in a circulating current that draws them back to the falling water and then down to the river bottom.

Aurora Canoe ChuteAurora Canoe Chute

While the Canoe Chute is seen as a free and safe passage around the dam, the Whitewater Park could be a fee based attraction which would help pay for its construction. The Aurora plans stem from a county long Water Trail concept first put forth in 1978 by the Kane County Forest Preserve District and County Board, which envisioned a safe bypass channel around each of the dams in Kane County. To date the Aurora Canoe Chute is the only part of that vision that has been built.

Please consider supporting The Aurora Canoe Chute Fund. Your donation will go towards the re-engineering of the Canoe Chute. Fundraising efforts for the canoe chute are initiated by Paddle and TrailIllinois Paddling Council and Be Active Outdoors. Proceeds from the Aurora Amped Up Adventure Race will benefit the Aurora Canoe Chute re-engineering.

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