Hikers Dan and Kathy Coffin became Trailblazers on Sunday when they signed up for the Allen County Parks challenge that will keep them busy from now through Christmas.
The Coffins and more than 300 outdoor enthusiasts will sign on this year to hike 10 out of 15 trails in the county and notch up the accomplishment with a medallion they can nail on their walking stick.
The program was created in 2011 by Bob Dispenza, park and education manager at Metea County Park for Allen County Parks.
In 2010, Dispenza met with representatives from ACRES Land Trust and other groups interested in getting people out to enjoy the natural opportunities in the county. By including Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation, Fort Wayne Trails, Little River Wetlands Project and New Haven Parks and Recreation, the program offers a variety of trails that no one organization can match, Dispenza said.
A couple of goals were to get people out hiking and getting some exercise and to visit natural venues they'd never been to before, Dispenza said.
Registration for Trailblazers was Sunday at the Metea County Park Nature Center, where walking sticks are sold for $5 apiece once a registrant completes the hiking schedule.
Dispenza is the one who takes discarded wooden broom sticks and drills a hole at one end to slip a corded knot through it. The medallions are free.
The selected hikes add up to about 20 miles. Renee Bentz, nature programs director at Moser Park Nature Center in New Haven, said the New Haven hike is 1.5 miles long.
Seven-year-old Clay Gray is a veteran Trailblazer, accompanied by his mother and father, Rick and Tracy Gray, all of Fort Wayne.
“He's pretty close to the youngest we've had,” said Dispenza who walked the trail with the Grays on Sunday using his signature stick covered in medallions from years past.
The Grays said they have been taking Clay on these hikes since he was in a stroller.
“We lost a tire in Eagle Marsh,” Rick Gray said, “which made it really fun on Fox Island.”
Getting out in nature is what's important to the Grays and the Coffins.
“We hiked in the Rocky Mountains last year, 12,000 feet up, just for the fun of it,” Dan Coffin said.
For more information on the program, go to allencountytrailblazers.org.