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Take It Outside Challenge pushing people to 'get out and do something'

Participants take selfies as part of the Take It Outside Challenge.
Samantha Eberhardt and her family (left) and Rob Gowens (right) are fully embracing the Take It Outside Challenge and completing as many missions as they can.

Rob Gowens wanted something to do in retirement, and Samantha Eberhardt was looking for a fun way to experience the outdoors with her husband and four children. 

Now Gowens of Tinley Park and Eberhardt of Oak Forest are among more than 1,000 people who are out completing missions and earning points as part of the Forest Preserve District’s yearlong Take It Outside Challenge.

Since January, more than 21,000 nature-themed missions have been completed. Missions include check-ins at Forest Preserve locations, quiz questions, selfie opportunities and nature photo assignments. 

Gowens said he joined the challenge to keep moving after taking early retirement from his construction job a year ago. He said he didn’t want to sit around the house “eating bon bons.” 

Eberhardt said the challenge is the perfect family activity.

“My kids and I are crazy about the Take It Outside Challenge! It combines nature, hiking, cleverness and strategic planning. We love exploring new places and I can’t wait to see how the preserves change with the seasons.”

Participants complete missions to move up the leaderboard. Five random winners are picked monthly to win T-shirts and other prizes, and overall leaders will receive $500, $250 and $150 gift cards for first, second and third place, respectively, after the competition ends on Dec. 31.

Each challenge participant creates a profile in the free Goosechase app to compete. The 6-foot-4 Gowens goes by BigRob71 on his profile and Eberhardt, her husband and four kids are The6littlepigs. 

Discovering new preserves

When Gowens heard about the challenge, he said he jumped at it. 

“I was sitting in my recliner and realized I’ve got to get out and do something,” he said. 

Now Gowens is having a ball completing missions and watching his status on the leaderboard. He said he loves the challenge because it’s introducing him to preserves he hasn’t visited before.  

“It’s the excitement of finding new places that are preserved for our enjoyment,” he said. “It’s keeping me moving in my retirement.”

The nice thing about the challenge is that you can do the missions at your own pace and enjoy friendly competition with others who are participating, he added. 

“You can see what they post, so it’s almost like a remote interaction,” he said. “But I can do what I want on my own timeline.”

Eberhardt is competing with her husband, Ernie or “Opa,” and kids Arbor, 13; Penny, 10; and Cora and Violet, who are both 7. 

She and her husband plan the missions during the week and the family becomes "weekend warriors" on Saturdays and Sundays. They pack lunches and gear before heading out to the preserves.

“Our goal is to make it up the leaderboard,” she said. “We enjoy talking to the forest preserve workers and meeting other competitors. I do most of the navigating, but my kids are so good at finding all the little items to take pictures of.” 

Where the heck is Willy?

Of all the missions listed on the challenge, the Where’s Willy task seems to be one of the toughest.

The mission requires participants to look for a cutout of Willy, the Forest Preserve’s woodchuck mascot, in a preserve that begins with the letter “M.”

Gowens said he hiked three preserves that begin with the letter “M” with no luck. Then he walked the paths of a fourth preserve in a quest to earn a whopping 50 points.

“And I finally found Willy!” he said triumphantly. 

Eberhardt said it took hours of looking before her family located the woodchuck cutout and she was almost going to give up when her daughter, Penny, told her to listen to her gut. 

“I told everyone to get out of the car and we were going to comb the area again,” Eberhardt said. “I had a few clues to go on and eventually my teenage son found him. I was screaming and running around trying to hug my son who was running away from me. My girls were laughing so hard and running behind me. What a fantastic day!”

Join the challenge

It’s not too late to join the Take It Outside Challenge, which lasts until Dec. 31 and will feature new missions throughout the year.

Participants should read the rules before joining the challenge. And don’t forget to read the individual missions carefully to make sure you know exactly what is required to earn points. 

The challenge is part of a larger "Take It Outside Campaign" that is designed to help people enjoy the mental and physical benefits of being outside.