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Back to Nature

The Blue Lake Methodist Campground was bustling with activity last weekend as hikers and nature lovers from across the southeast gathered amidst the pines of the Conecuh National Forest for the Second Annual Alabama Hiking Trail Society Conference.

According to Johnny Brewer, vice president of publicity for the AHTS, which is based in Andalusia, 60 people attended the event, which featured a veritable who's who of the hiking world.

"There were a lot of big name hikers there," Brewer said. "R. Michael Leonard, was the keynote speaker. He helped build the Pinhoti Trail, and is the founder of the Alabama Hiking Trail Society. Nimblewill Nomad, or M.J. Eberhart, was also there. He gave presentation on trail magic. It was a presentation that was very poetic. A lot of prose and adventure poetry. Very spiritual."

Among the activities at the conference, hikers enjoyed presentations on the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, Native American trails, reptiles of the Southeast, and much more.

"There was something for everyone," Brewer said. "There were programs for the experienced hiker, and programs for those who are just getting started. Everyone learned a lot about hiking in the United States."

Nimblewill Nomad, the first person to every complete the Eastern Continental Trail, was one of the most popular in attendance, Brewer said, and made the conference more lively.

"I think probably having him there, was the highlight for a lot of people," he said. "The man is 64-years-old, and you wouldn't believe it. His age shows only by his hair color. Next year, he's going to honor the 200th anniversary of Lewis and Clark by hiking as close to possible the trail they followed west.

"Nimblewill also presented a book by Earl Shaffer, Hiking with Spring, to the Alabama Hiking Trail Society. Shaffer autographed the book, and said he would donate it only if we auctioned it off."

And auction it off they did, along with several other items.

"We were very fortunate to have several items to auction off, including $600 worth of hiking equipment and supplies from Sierra Trail & Cycle in Troy," Brewer said. "Several businesses assisted us with items for the auction, and we raffled off a kayak. That was a really popular item too."

Also in attendance at the conference were Robbie and Brenda Bendall of the Alabama Trail Society, another group devoted to hiking and preserving the natural resources of Alabama.

"Having members of the Alabama Trail Society there was great," Brewer said. "It was nice to know that the two society's are working towards the same goals, and that we're able to work together."

In addition to the hiking presentations and talk, there was a little fun to be had as well.

"There was time for socializing with a campfire, banjo music and singing," Brewer said. "It was enjoyed by all."

The conference had its poignant moments too.

"There was a memorial service for Ann McDuff, an avid hiker who was killed, and Chuck Simon played the bagpipes beautifully. It was a very moving experience," Brewer said.

At the conference, the AHTS also elected new officers, with Eric Douglas of Brewton taking the reigns as president.

"There are new officers this year, but we're always looking for more people interested in joining," Brewer said. "They can contact the society at 427-4445 and find out more."

It takes a lot of people to put on a conference of this size, and the AHTS had plenty of help.

"We can't express our appreciation enough to those who helped," Brewer said. "Bobby Wilson at the Crow's Nest provided us with a delicious barbecue meal, Sierra in Troy for everything, Southern Trails Outfitters in Montgomery and of course, we're extremely grateful to the Blue Lake Methodist Camp and the United Methodist Assembly for letting us use their facilities. Without all the help we had, it couldn't have happened."