If you’re zipping along Wilkes-Barre’s South Franklin Street or South River Street in a car, you might be vaguely aware you’re passing some spectacular old homes.
But slow down and saunter past them with a guide, and you can learn about architectural styles, from Georgian to Tudor to Chateauesque, as well as the history of the people who built them.
Take another stroll, this one through the Nesbitt Park, and you can learn about plants and animals that live there and how the riparian barrier helps keep pollutants out of the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay.
Other planned outings can give you a chance to explore college campuses, see what’s growing in community gardens, and visit ethnic eateries and bodegas in Hazleton to see what they have to offer.
“Walking has wonderful benefits for people’s emotional health and mental health as well as physical health,” said Carol Hussa of Wilkes-Barre, coordinator of the “Y Walk Wednesdays” program.
Over the past few years the series of organized walks has given thousands of area residents an opportunity to get some exercise while they learn more about their communities.
This year’s program starts in June, and outings will leave from the lobbies of the Wilkes-Barre or Hazleton YMCAs late on Wednesday afternoons.
“You may come with friends or you may come alone,” Hussa said. “Either way, you’ll meet new people. When you walk in a group you don’t even realize you’re walking. You’re doing what comes naturally.”
Walks will begin promptly at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays and depart from the lobby of the Y at 40 W. Northampton St. in Wilkes-Barre or 75 S. Church St. in Hazleton. In case of rain, the walk is postponed until 6 the next evening.
Participants should wear comfortable clothing and shoes and bring water.
If you are participating in the Keystone Active Zone (KAZ) Passport program, please note a scavenger-hunt question and answer will be revealed on each walk.
For more information, call the Wilkes-Barre YMCA at 823-2191 or the Hazleton YMCA at 455-2046.
Here is a list of the scheduled walks:
• Diamond City Architecture Now and Then (W-B), led by Larry Newman of the Diamond City Partnership. Walkers will see and learn about the historic buildings that made Wilkes-Barre what it was and what it is today. June 12.
• A Walk on the Wild Side: The Kirby Park Natural Area (W-B), led by Vinnie Cotrone of the Penn State Cooperative Extension. Walkers will explore the natural and wild side of Kirby Park, learning about the park’s history, the riparian forest, the wildlife that inhabits it, its connection to the Chesapeake Bay and how it improves water quality for the Susquehanna River. June 19.
• Growing Gardens: Nurturing Neighborhoods (W-B), led by Ted Kross of the Wilkes-Barre City Health Department. Walkers will wander through several different community gardens throughout the city and see how these gardens benefit the neighborhoods in which they grow. June 26
• King’s Campus Stroll (W-B), led by Tish Last and Patrice Persico. Walkers will explore the campus, inside and out, focusing on its historic buildings, beautiful landscaping, monuments, memorials and the many new additions to the campus map. July 10.
• Review the New in Hazleton (H), led by Marijo Penkala. Walkers will learn about the exciting changes that are transforming Hazleton’s downtown streetscape. July 17.
• Wings Over Wilkes-Barre (W-B), led by Mayor Tom Leighton. Walkers will enjoy breathtaking city views and sweeping river vistas from above the rooftops and along the River Common. July 24.
• What’s New at the Old Y (W-B) Led by Joan Angeli. Learn about all the new and exciting changes at the Wilkes-Barre YMCA since the recent $15 million renovation to the 1934 structure. July 31.
• Hazleton’s Hispanic Eateries and Bodegas (H), led by Marijo Penkala. Walkers will discover where to find a wide variety of tastes as they explore the many small markets and shops that our newest neighbors are establishing throughout the downtown. Aug. 7.
• Walk Wilkes U (W-B), led by Jill Price. Walkers will discover what a great place a college campus is to walk as they enjoy the grounds and gardens and see what’s new at Wilkes University. Aug. 14.
• Nature in Your Neighborhood (W-B), led by Diane Madl from Nescopeck Park. Walkers will spend a summer evening discovering some of the plants and wildlife along the River Common. Aug. 21.