Winter walks in Traverse City are magical. They’re one of my favorite things. Not only quiet, reflective and beautiful, but they help me connect with my neighborhood and the people in it.

The gentleman with the white headphones on Washington Street. The 40-something guy with the Stormy Kromer hat near Boardman Lake. The two neighbors with the little white dog at the Civic Center. The older couple on Eighth Street.

And then there’s the lady with the golden retriever downtown. It seems like every time I am anywhere near Front Street, so too are they.

One memorable sighting of this pair happened several winters ago when I saw them rolling down the middle of Cass Street near the bridge over the Boardman River.

I wondered what their story was? And why were they in the middle of the street?

Turns out, her name is Jeanne and the golden retriever is Luke.

Jeanne was born and raised in Wisconsin and grew up in Oak Creek with two older brothers.

After high school, she received her B.A. and an M.A. in communication disorders from the University of Wisconsin — Whitewater before getting another master’s degree in educational systems from Michigan State University.

An avid runner and hiker, Jeanne worked in the Portland Public School system near Grand Ledge, Michigan as a speech therapist for several years, and then moved to Traverse City in 2009 after she retired.

Luke is an energetic, ball-loving, people-adoring, 4-year-old who is also a Wisconsin native. Jeanne adopted him as a puppy and it was love at first sight.

No matter the weather, Luke lives for walks downtown and knows every business that offers dog treats. He is Jeanne’s sounding board, a loyal friend and her service dog.

In 1993, a neuromuscular disease robbed Jeanne of her mobility. She’s been using an electric chair to get around ever since. Despite this challenge, Jeanne also loves a winter walk. “It’s peaceful, gentle, meditative, and Luke enjoys is so much,” she said.

This is why she and Luke were in the middle of Cass Street that snowy Sunday afternoon.

The pedestrian portion of the Cass Street bridge was drifted over and large berms of snow at the intersections created by the plow truck made accessing the sidewalk in her chair impossible.

I’m grateful for the many neighbors, business owners, and City workers who clear Traverse City’s neighborhood sidewalks, but we can do better. Much better.

I hope we will all commit to being awesome in 2020 because shoveling your sidewalk is more than a chore like taking out the recycling, it’s about neighbors helping neighbors. It’s about equity, access, and social connectedness.

So grab your shovel, get after it next time it snows and then go for a winter walk. Who knows, you just might make a new friend.

Ty Schmidt is executive director of Norte! a youth-focused nonprofit dedicated to building walk/bike communities.

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