Volunteer trail leaders make it worth the hike

Energetic: Wherever their path leads on a Saturday morning, the five people who head Howard County's hiking program say they end up having fun and meeting new friends.

Howard At Play

April 02, 2000|By Carol Sorgen | Carol Sorgen,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

They don't earn a dime, but five enthusiastic volunteers who lead the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks hiking program keep coming back -- one for 17 years -- for love of the outdoors and friendships they have formed.

"Hiking is a great way to relax, stay fit and get away from the stresses of everyday life," says Ellicott City's John Breivogel, 46, a BGE employee.

Two Saturdays most months, you'll find him and about 20 to 30 other hikers -- including volunteer leaders Norm Seidelman, Bob Hickerson, Mary Boeckman and Henry Ellis -- out on a trail. Sometimes it's a 6- to 9-mile segment of the Appalachian Trail in Western Maryland. Or maybe on the C & O Canal Towpath, at Calvert Cliffs State Park, somewhere in the Patapsco River Valley, or on the Catoctin Trail.

Breivogel, a volunteer leader for five years who led a recent Appalachian Trail event, has seen his share of deer, chipmunks, birds and scenic views, not to mention a small falling tree that landed on one hiker.

"It was only a glancing blow," Breivogel recalled. "Everything was OK."

In case things aren't OK, hike leaders have been trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and carry first-aid kits, cellular telephones, radios to communicate with one another and sometimes extra food to replace forgotten snacks.

"There are no restaurants or pizza-delivery numbers to call out there," Breivogel said, "so it's important to have a good supply of nutritious food -- sandwiches, [energy] bars, fruit and plenty of water."

There is a reward at the end of each hike, Breivogel said -- usually a stop for ice cream. The group's favorite? The Boonsboro Creamery in Frederick County on the way back from a couple Appalachian Trail segments.

"It's like a school trip," said Breivogel. "We come and go on a school bus, we stop for ice cream, and then we all fall asleep because we're so tired."

Hikers -- including one dog -- who complete all 42 Maryland miles of the famed, 2,300-mile Appalachian Trail earn a colorful county patch. Another is being designed for a new, 100-mile stretch of the AT, counting extensions into Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Columbian Seidelman, "59 and holding," has been with the county program 17 years, the first two as hiker, the last 15 as a leader. The software specialist got involved after seeing a newspaper ad.

"I had so much fun and found it so interesting that I was hooked right from the start," he said, laughing as he recalled getting lost leading his first hike. "It's a learning experience, too. There are a lot of things out there people don't know about."

Seidelman recommended "Appalachian Trail No. 7" in the rec department's program as a perfect hike for first-timers, because "it's not too long, it has nice vistas, and it ends up in Harper's Ferry, where you can either walk some more or just sit and enjoy the view."

Added Bob Hickerson, 62, a retired engineer from Ellicott City who has been a volunteer leader since 1987: "Each hike has its own characteristics."

He and other volunteers scout proposed routes from the standpoints of distance, difficulty and features such as stream crossings, as well as logistics, including parking for the bus participants' ride to and from their hikes.

Besides just liking to "get out there and hike," said Hickerson, the county program gives him a chance to have fun with a group and work with "great" people, a sentiment echoed by Terri Paddy, outdoors supervisor for the county rec department.

"We wouldn't be able to have this program without these volunteers," she said. "They're an energetic, terrific, dedicated group of people, and we appreciate the effort they put into this year after year."

County hikes

When: Second and fourth Saturdays each month.

Where: Depending on season, mountain or park trails in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Details: Open to anyone 12 and older. $15. Groups leave by van or bus at 8 a.m. from Long Gate Parkway and Ride, Ellicott City ; return between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Information: 410-313-7275 or see rec department's Web site, http: www.co.co.md.usrecparks

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