Bob Downing


Metro Parks, Serving Summit County, is ready for hikers to embark on the system’s 50th annual Fall Hiking Spree.



Amy and Frank Mitch have been there every step of the way.



“We just do lots of walking,” said Frank Mitch, who with Amy successfully has completed the first 49 autumn hiking extravaganzas. “We walk a mile and a half every day in the neighborhood.”



His wife added: “It’s a good time for us to be together.”



The husband-and-wife walking team from Bath Township has matching staffs, each affixed with 49 shields, to prove their fall hiking prowess.



“It’s something that we look forward to every year,” Amy said.



His favorite trail: Quarry Trail at Deep Lock Quarry Metro Park in Peninsula. Hers: Spring Hollow Trail at Hampton Hills Metro Park in North Akron.



The Mitches are among 13 known participants who have completed all the Fall Hiking Sprees, according to park officials.



The park district has not kept records for how many people have completed the spree over all its years, spokesman Nate Eppink said, but that total is likely approaching a half-million.



The spree is billed as the largest and longest-running event of its kind in the United States. In recent years, about 12,000 hikers have completed the spree annually.



Last year, the number was 12,736. The record year: 2003, when 14,865 hikers completed the series of walks.



This year’s spree officially begins Sunday and runs through Nov. 30.



Arthur T. Wilcox created the spree in 1964. The park district’s secretary-director at that time, Wilcox saw it as a way to acquaint Summit County residents with local trails and parks, says Bert Szabo, 92, a retired park district naturalist who was involved in the first spree.



But first, Wilcox ordered work on the trails to improve them for hikers, Szabo said.



Szabo, who retired in 1991, said he is surprised by how big the event has become. He said he is convinced that trail use is increasing as young people get away from their computers, at least temporarily, and get outdoors for fun and fitness.



You can get a head start on this year’s spree Saturday.



The park district is staging a one-day sneak preview, and you can hike trails at five parks included in the first spree and get credit for this year’s spree.



The five parks are:



•?Firestone Metro Park, Akron.



•?Sand Run Metro Park, Akron.



•?Goodyear Heights Metro Park, Akron.



•?Deep Lock Quarry Metro Park, Peninsula.



•?Gorge Metro Park, Cuyahoga Falls.



A park naturalist and costumed mascots will be on hand from noon to 3 p.m. at the Tuscarawas Meadows Area of Firestone Metro Park, which sits off Harrington Road in South Akron.



Park mascots will be at the other four parks from 1 to 3 p.m.



First-time hikers must complete at least eight designated trails to earn hiking staff and shields. Veteran hikers receive shields. The rewards are free for Summit County residents. Others must pay a fee: $10 for first-year hikers and $5 for veteran hikers.



Forms are available at: Seiberling Nature Realm, 1828 Smith Road, Akron; park offices, 975 Treaty Line Road, Akron; all Acme Fresh Market stores in Summit County; online at www.summitmetroparks.org.



For more information, call 330-865-8065.



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