A hiking staff, and a shield for each year’s successful outings, hardly begins to describe the benefits of participating in the Fall Hiking Spree, sponsored by Metro Parks, Serving Summit County.

During the spree’s 50th year, the park district took time earlier this week to celebrate a remarkable accomplishment by a small group, members of what must be one of the most exclusive hiking clubs anywhere. The group of 12 has completed the Fall Hiking Spree for 50 years in a row.

As reported by staff writer Bob Downing, the sturdy veterans have found companionship, fitness and the joys and challenges of rugged, natural settings throughout the county. One, George Figel, credits the hikes with saving his life. After feeling fatigued on the trails in the 1990s, he went to the doctor, and ended up with bypass surgery. At 82, he’s still on the trails..

The district estimates some 500,000 have completed a spree over the years, a remarkable number for what has become one of the Akron area’s signature events. The spree remains the country’s longest running and most successful hiking program.

There is still time to hike at least eight of the designated trails in the park district. First-year hikers get a staff and a shield; veterans add a shield each year. This year’s spree has been extended through Dec. 15. Those who finished before the snow flew can take a rest, and have one more thing for which to be thankful.