The guru of the Saturday hikers Where Hall, 81, leads, devoted walking partners faithfully follow him

December 18, 1997|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

On a crisp Saturday morning, a group of bundled hikers plodded past pines and oaks, then halted abruptly before a pin oak.

"You hit that tree, and it'll hit you back," said a man in a snap-brim cap. He was carrying a walking stick taller than himself.

The hikers sighed appreciatively.

The man dropped the stick to the ground and continued on, his flock of half-a-dozen hikers following closely.

For 30 years, hikers have been traipsing through county woods and over private property -- usually with permission -- on the Severn River Association's monthly Saturday morning hikes.

They follow Ned Hall and his ever-present cap. Hall, 81, who's been walking the county so long he knows it better than any detailed map, has been leading the hikes for seven years.

Hikers affectionately call him "the oldest man in Anne Arundel."

He stops the group periodically to note something special, to point out unusual trees, to lament the loss of forested land. Hall, now retired, was a county surveyor, a job his father also held.

He said there is not much of the county he hasn't seen by now. Most residents just wave when they see Hall leading his group through the bushes.

Not everyone, though.

"I guess I always feel, maybe because of being a surveyor all my life, that I can walk on anyone's property," Hall said as the group took a sharp turn off a county trail past a property marker near New Cut Road in Severn. "Of course, once I got shot at. But that was on the job. You run into all sorts."

Most of the hikers in his group change from week to week, but a few are regulars.

Sometimes, two dozen people show up, sometimes a handful.

They walk in rain, snow, sleet and on the hottest of summer days, and always for a full two hours.

They never complain or doubt him, even as they pull sticks and branches out of their hats after negotiating 80 yards of brush.

"How much of this stuff is there, Ned?" asked Paul Speyser, a Severn River Association member, as the group plunged headfirst into a patch of shrubbery.

"If I remember, 20 feet to go," Hall responded, a voice from violently swaying bushes ahead of Speyser.

Twenty feet later, exactly, the group emerged into a clearing.

The hikers -- including an accountant, astronomer, contract officer and mortgage underwriter -- relished Hall's county tales, pointing to areas burned in fires, regrown and burned again.

"I'm always shocked that there are this many tracts of land to walk on left in the county," said Julie Harding, who stumbled onto the group several years ago and has tagged along every Saturday since. "I always thought it was mostly urbanized."

"I got tired of looking at con- crete all the time," said first-time hiker Jim Earl.

As the group approached a three-pronged fork in the road, Hall stopped abruptly again, his hikers almost piling into one another.

"I think we'll take the middle one," Hall said.

The group dutifully followed.

Later, as the group made the final turn back toward the trail head, a hiker asked Hall his secret to long life.

"Get a lot of sleep, and enjoy the living part," he called out, as the hikers parted ways -- until the next time.

Pub Date: 12/18/97

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