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There are plenty of reasons to join our Take It Outside challenge. What's yours?

The intent of the Take It Outside Challenge is clear based on the name — to get people outside enjoying nature — but how or why they participate varies greatly. 

For Clementina Nicolasa Garcia from New Lenox, the driving force is that sense of community that is being built among the participants, both this year and last year. 

"I'm a stay-at-home mom and this challenge gives me something to do and be a part of," she said. "My youngest daughter has been with me completing each mission. She is 4 and loves helping me find the items or getting to the X! I guess we're a team."

Unlike last year's challenge, which was one experience that ran for the entire year, this year's challenge is broken into four seasons: Winter Workout through March 30; Spring Fling, April 14 to June 15; Summer Soiree, June 30 to Sept. 21; and Fall Frolic, Oct. 6 to Dec. 14. The intent is to increase participation, knowing that committing to an entire year of activities could be overwhelming for some. 

"I love that this challenge is separated into seasons," Garcia said. "It feels more accommodating for us who don't have the time to drive around all over Will County to complete challenges.

"The challenge has really been fun for me. I love updating my family on my progress in completing missions."

Garcia isn't alone in her desire to be a part of something. In fact, the Forest Preserve has seen many participants connect with one another because of the challenge and then team up on the trails.

"Most of the time I go with my husband, but I also have a network of a few other Goosechasers that work together to help out with some of the tricky missions," said Cathy Nolan of Frankfort. 

One of those intentionally tricky missions is the "Little Willy, big points" mission, where it's as tough as finding a needle in a haystack. But this time it's a small 3-inch-by-3-inch head of our mascot, Willy Woodchuck. 

"Little Willy with no clues was a huge challenge," Nolan said. "It took a long time before someone found him and so many of us were meeting up on the trail and talking about theories about where he could be!"

Garcia is still searching for him, but there's some good that's come out of getting all those steps in while trying to check this one off her list.

"Finding Willy has not been easy for us but we are determined," she said. "On a plus, we will drive out to different preserves and still get our walk in."

The community that has been created and the desire for participants to connect more was the inspiration behind the District's Take It Outside Meetups as well as guided hikes, which are scheduled to take place during each of the seasonal challenges. The meetups offer participants a chance to make a personal connection after seeing them pop up in the activity feed on a daily or weekly basis, while the guided hikes offer an interpretive component while completing missions with others. 

But the challenge isn't just limited to humans, as we've seen many selfies with participants bringing their four-legged friends along for the ride. Some time in the great outdoors is as beneficial for them as for humans.

Gretchen Wilson of Frankfort is doing the challenge with her dog, and both have found things in the preserves worth getting excited about. 

"While hiking early at Goodenow Grove with my dog by the pond, I saw something on a log and a disruption in the water," she said. "It turned out to be five or six muskrats swimming and sunning themselves."

Wilson has visited many preserves and trails she's never been to before, including the Rock Run Greenway Trail and Evans-Judge Preserve. During a visit to Messenger Marsh, her dog's extremely excited reaction to the dog park and other dogs running around convinced her to buy a dog park permit

A benefit of the Challenge is that participants visit preserves outside of their immediate area and see firsthand the variety of habitats and recreational opportunities that exist in Will County forest preserves. 

"Will County is huge," Nolan said. "There are so many amazing preserves that I had never heard about before and probably would never have visited if not for the Take It Outside Challenge."

Visiting new and different preserves, as well as increasing the time spent outside, provides greater opportunities to discover a new favorite spot, take in new scenery or see a variety of wildlife. With nature, timing is everything. 

That was the case for Wilson.

"I visited Sugar Creek really early on a cool morning, it was just me and my dog," she said. "As we walked around the marsh, the sun caught the frost on the grasses and I got some beautiful pictures. It was one of those moments that makes you stop to appreciate nature."

Each seasonal challenge features a variety of prizes. Mastercard gift cards in the amounts of $500, $250 and $150 will be awarded for first, second and third places, respectively. But you can only win a seasonal cash prize once. Additional prizes will be awarded.

The 2024 Take It Outside Challenge is sponsored by the Nature Foundation of Will County.

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