Bob Downing

The dozen grizzled Summit County hikers show a few gray hairs and more than a few miles on their bodies.

The exclusive club gathered outdoors Monday, at the Seiberling Nature Realm, for photographs to celebrate completion of the Fall Hiking Spree for 50 successive years.

Together they have logged thousands of miles in the event sponsored annually since 1964 by Metro Parks, Serving Summit County.

“This is a milestone ... and it’s impressive that we have this many people who have hiked all 50 Hiking Sprees,” said Keith Shy, secretary-director of the park district.

Metro Parks personnel estimate that 500,000 people have completed the spree over the years. About 1,500 completed the first spree. Now about 12,000 people complete the event every fall.

The record number is 14,868 in 2003.

Staffs the dozen hikers carry are covered with the miniature shields that go to participants who complete the popular fall event.

Mildred Poole, 89, of Akron lamented that there is no more space available on her hiking staff. She hiked 48 sprees with her late husband, Harold, and the past two with her son, Mark, also of Akron.

Hampton Hills Metro Park in Akron and Cuyahoga Falls is getting tougher with its hills, she said.

Mark Poole, 54, said his parents took him and his two brothers on fall hikes as part of the spree beginning when he was 5.

Nancy Grof, of Barberton, said she is proud to be part of a small group to have completed all 50 sprees. She said she is partial to trails with water and bridges.

Her hiking has spilled over to the Akron Metro Parks Hiking Club, where she has logged more than 15,200 miles,

Asked if she has a favorite trail, Grof said, “I like them all. I’m just glad to have a place to go.”

Hiking probably saved George Figel’s life.

Figel, 82, of Akron, was getting tired on the trails, so he went to his family doctor in 1990. He needed double-bypass heart surgery and is doing well.

His said his favorite trail is Piney Woods at Goodyear Heights Metro Park in East Akron and called Gorge Metro Park in Akron and Cuyahoga Falls the hardest with its rocks that turn the trail into “an obstacle course.”

“It’s just great to be around,” he said. “Frankly, I’m a little surprised to be around this long.”

A similar comment came from Bert Szabo, 92, of Munroe Falls, who was a park district employee who helped start the spree in 1964.

“I’m just surprised and grateful to finish this year’s event,” said Szabo, retired chief naturalist and still a park volunteer. “We’ve all got a lot of miles on us in a lot of ways.”

Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or bdowning@thebeaconjournal.com.