What in the blue blazes would prompt someone to endure backpacking in scorching temperatures and frequent deluges? Better ask local hiking enthusiast Andy Niekamp. You’ll have the opportunity to do so Wednesday, June 15, when he completes his hike of the entire Buckeye Trail, a 1,444-mile journey looping through Ohio.
Niekamp has been hiking since his Boy Scout days, tackling such terrain as the 7,400-mile Appalachian Trail, a continuous footpath that runs through fourteen states from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdin in Maine. He has been awarded three “2,000 miler” certificates by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, recognition conferred on hikers who have completed the entire trail. Last year alone, he logged nearly 1,600 miles of backpacking on 16 different trips in 15 states.
The Buckeye Trail, which is the longest circular trail in the country, is a new challenge for Niekamp. “Hiking the Buckeye Trail is about discovering Ohio. It is not a wilderness experience. It is about learning Ohio’s history. It is about the people of Ohio,” he writes in his blog, outlining his trip. “It is a journey around Ohio on trails and roads in both rural and urban areas. Hiking the Buckeye Trail is about the people, the places, the present and the past.”
Marked with “blue blazes” along the volunteer-maintained trail, the Buckeye Trail reaches all four corners of the state. It passes through several MetroParks (Eastwood, Deeds Point, Island, Taylorsville and Wegerzyn Gardens MetroParks), running with the North Country National Scenic Trail. You can learn more about this 4,600-mile trail stretching across seven states from North Dakota to New York at the annual conference that takes place right here in Dayton August 11-14!
The public is invited to welcome Niekamp, who started his journey on the Buckeye Trail from Dayton on March 20, as he wraps up his hike at Deeds Point MetroPark on June 15. If you want to be part of the action and hear Niekamp’s experiences, head to Eastwood MetroPark at 3:00 p.m. on the Buckeye Trail/Mad River bike path near the bridge in the parking lot farthest from Harshman Road. Finish the hike with Niekamp around 4:00 p.m. and be rewarded with a reception at the Five Rivers MetroParks office at 224 N. Saint Clair St. (There will be cake and ice cream!)
Getting inspired to get out and hike? Why not join a group of friendly folks who will keep you motivated? Niekamp is the founder and leader of the Dayton Hikers group, Dayton’s largest and most active hiking group. You’ll be in the company of about 500 members who take advantage of the group’s variety of day hike and backpacking trips. You can also get outside and enjoy the nearly 175 miles of trail available at any MetroPark. Why not check out an upcoming fitness and health program? It doesn’t matter what your skill level, intensity or frequency with which you hike, just as long as you get out and live!