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WKSU is looking for the answers to the questions you have about Ohio in a project we call "OH Really?" It's an initiative that makes you part of the news gathering process.

Sticking it to the Summit Metro Parks Fall Hiking Spree

Dana Mileti_web.jpg
Dana Mileti
The 58th annual Fall Hiking Spree ends on November 30. Anyone completing eight trails for the first time receives a hiking staff -- and a shield commemorates every year of participation. Where do the staff and shields come from? Our 'OH Really?' team finds out.

There’s just a few weeks left to enjoy fall colors in Northeast Ohio… and to participate in the Summit County Metro Parks’ Fall Hiking Spree. Everyone who finishes the spree is rewarded with a hiking staff, and that prompted listener Rick Hannon of Northfield to ask our “OH Really?” team: where do those staffs come from?

When the spree began in 1964, the staffs were much wider and made of maple. Almost six decades later, they use poplar grown in southern Ohio.

Putting together a staff
Swan Hardware in Akron works with the Baker-McMillen Company in Stow, which makes the staffs.

“It has to be a hard wood in order to use it as a staff, because they're using it to help walk the trails -- if you need it. So, we couldn't do recycled woods," according to Sharon White with the Metro Parks’ Nature Realm.

“Our maintenance department actually cuts the rope [for the top of the staff]. And then the rope is taken to Weaver Industries. They drill holes into them and then put the rope on it.”

Graphic designers with the Metro Parks design the shields – with a new motif every year -- and then send that off to Sackmann Stamp in Akron. The finished brass shields are delivered flat, then bent into shape and mounted at Weaver Industries.

“It's an amazing thing that we have all the community is involved in this hiking spree. So, I'm always excited when I tell the story of where they've come from and how it's so community oriented,” White said.

She says they order about 5,000 staffs each year.

Richard Alan Hannon
Rick Hannon recently moved to Northfield from Idaho, and has enjoyed participating in the Summit County Metro Parks' Fall Hiking Spree. He wanted to know where the staffs come from which go to anyone who completes eight trails in the spree.

Getting to spree
How does one actually sign up for the spree?

“We have a list of trails that you can hike," White said. "You can pick that up anywhere, or get them online, and you have to do eight different trails from September 1- November 30. And you have until March 31 to actually turn your form. You enter the date that you hike a trail. You could do it anytime -- by yourself or not. If there's a footprint on one of the programs, then you can get credit for your hike and go with a bunch of different people and learn a little bit of interpretation with our naturalists. For your first year, you can get a staff and a shield. And then every year after you get an additional shield. This year, the Metro Parks system is 100 years old.”

Today is Bert Szabo Day in Summit Metro Parks. Szabo spent 34 years with the park district as its first naturalist and helped launch the popular Fall Hiking Spree, among other things.

By the numbers
For those who associate hiking with spring and summer, White says it’s amazing to see fall colors in the Summit Metro Parks right now.

“Last Saturday, we had 600 people in the Nature Realm. I have more people that come and tell me there's nothing like this where they live, anywhere else in Ohio. Last year was a savior for these people to get out and hike with their kids to get that energy out of them and enjoy nature and not have their iPads. They were so thankful that they were able to get out and have that little bit of a reward. Last year, we had 17,000 people finish. It is the oldest and the largest hiking spree in the United States."

White continued. “You see those kids, when they get their hiking sticks, and I tell them, ‘don't cut the head of your hiking stick off; you're going to fill that sucker up.’ Whenever anybody sees my volunteer -- who has all of the shields -- they are just in awe to see all those shields up and down the staff.”

White says about 3,000 people have received a staff this year. There’s still time to get yours before the Fall Hiking Spree ends on November 30. Stop by the Metro Parks’ administrative Offices at 975 Treaty Line Rd. in Akron, open weekdays from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

Or visit one of the three nature centers, which are open Wed.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sundays from noon until 5 p.m.

  • F.A. Seiberling Nature Realm, 1828 Smith Rd., Akron
  • Liberty Park Nature Center, 9999 Liberty Rd., Twinsburg
  • Summit Lake Nature Center, 411 Ira Ave., Akron

During the next three Saturdays, the parks will also offer help with attaching shields to staffs, from 1-3 p.m. A small number of guests will be admitted at a time; others will be asked to wait outdoors. Park staff advise dressing for the weather.

  • November 13, 1 – 3 p.m. at F.A. Seiberling Nature Realm
  • November 20, 1 – 3 p.m. at Summit Lake Nature Center
  • November 27, 1 – 3 p.m. at F.A. Seiberling Nature Realm
Built in a former pumphouse, the four-year project cost $1.5 million

Kabir Bhatia joined WKSU as a Reporter/Producer and weekend host in 2010. While a Kent State student, Bhatia served as a WKSU student assistant, working in the newsroom and for production.