Showing the pleasures of a walk in the woods Trails: A great way to attract volunteers, the National Hiking Society believes, is to invite the public to enjoy nature.

June 07, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Call Ted Brower the Daniel Boone of modern Maryland.

Almost 222 years after the formation of our nation, Brower cut a new path where no one has walked before. The 59-year-old part-time teacher and seasonal park ranger blazed an outdoor walkway eight years ago that earned him Maryland's 1996 Trail of Fame Award.

So Brower spent yesterday -- the sixth annual National Trails Day -- showing his work at Gunpowder Falls State Park.

For trail lovers such as National Hiking Society member Brower -- whether they travel on foot, horse or bicycle -- yesterday served as a national recruiting tool to lure new volunteers to preserve, maintain and rediscover America's interstate network of dirt paths.

"On Mother's Day, you honor your mother," said Brower, a perpetual Boy Scout complete with hand-carved walking stick. "The National Hiking Society is trying to raise the consciousness of hiking."

Brower led one of the 3,000 trail events taking place across 50 states yesterday. At noon, trail lovers in Pennsylvania and Maryland met at the border of the Northern Central Railroad Trail, which runs 20 miles from Ashland near Hunt Valley into Pennsylvania along an abandoned railroad line whose tracks carried President Lincoln to Gettysburg.

Maryland is a trail paradise. It houses the American Hiking Society headquarters in Silver Spring, but more importantly contains 37 miles of the King Kong of U.S. trails -- the Appalachian.

It calls challengers each year to take it on. About 1,500 do, finding the six months needed to walk the 2,158 miles from northern Georgia to Katahdin, Maine. Yet only 300 -- one in five -- finish, the rest falling to fatigue or injury.

Although yesterday celebrated the die-hards, it also attracted amateurs, appealing to those who wanted to slow down from the 55-mph rat race to take in their surroundings at a little over 1 mph.

Over the past decade, outdoor enthusiasts have turned U.S. trails into a $10 billion industry, with $920 million alone spent on hiking boots, according to a 1996 sporting goods industry survey showing trail use climbing at a brisk clip. And much like the rules of the road, trail use has its own etiquette, if you please: Walkers yield to horses, cyclists yield to all.

As the interest in trails swells, so does the need for National Trails Day. In 1993, the President's Commission on Americans Outdoors reported that trails provide 43 million people -- about one of six Americans -- access to nature studies, camping and hunting. In addition to cutting back growth or picking up trash, volunteers learn to monitor trails for flooding or erosion.

Rich Fuller answered the call several years ago. The 53-year-old Perry Hall resident spent his life tangling and untangling AT&T telephone lines in the middle of the night while installing systems for businesses across the nation.

So when he retired four years ago, Fuller heard duty call in the swoosh of Gunpowder Falls trees along U.S. 1. His reward for volunteering to maintain trails and escort hikers? The whisper of a running brook, the shade provided by a cathedral of trees, the flap of a heron's wings.

"When you get away from the road, it is so quiet," Fuller said, sipping 7-Eleven coffee as he waited to escort hikers yesterday. "There's a flock of blue herons over there, and you can hear them taking off."

Nothing brings more joy to trail veterans than a fresh face. So Emily Hasller lighted up the morning as she and five friends from Fallston's Girl Scout Troop 1554 tumbled out of their leader's car for their first hike. "We have to do this to become Cadets," Emily volunteered. "Oh, but we want to do this."

When told that Brower intended to lead a six-mile excursion, Emily's enthusiasm deflated. "Are we going to walk it all?" she asked.

As the girls marched on, George Knott stood on the sidelines. An avid outdoorsman for decades, a car accident put the 63-year-old Perry Hall man on the hiking disabled list three months ago. So silver crutches glimmering in the sun, he watched his brother, Mike, lead bird-watchers across a stream bridge.

"I can't turn down an opportunity to spend some time in the woods," Knott said. "We've been in the woods all our lives."

But that's the beauty of National Trails Day, he said. Whether celebrating in groups or alone, the idea is to enjoy the outdoors.

"You work 45 years, and you read about people like Ted Brower," Knott said. "And then you say, 'Why didn't I do something like this?' "

Facts about trails

* More than 30,000 miles of national trails lace the United States.

* Eight national scenic trails total more than 14,000 miles: The Appalachian, Continental Divide, Florida, Ice Age, Natchez Trace, North Country, Pacific Crest and Potomac Heritage National Scenic.

* Congress is considering legislation to designate the American Discovery Trail, the nation's only coast-to-coast trail. The 6,356-mile trek connects Cape Henlopen, Del., and Point Reyes, Calif., passing through 14 national parks and 16 national forests.

* Maryland hiking trails include Gunpowder Falls State Park, the Billy Goat Trail at C&O Canal National Historic Park, the Appalachian Trail and the Northern Central Railroad Trail in Ashland.

SOURCE: American Hiking Society

Pub Date: 6/07/98

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