MY 30-YEAR HIKE Print E-mail



The Story Behind the Book









How "The Short Hiker" came to be.

Author Jean Aron's experience and history of Hiking in the area of State College, PA

First presented as a bag lunch talk series program at Millbrook Marsh, July 23, 1999


      websize20198220first20edition.jpgFIRST EDITION 1982 ----- UPDATE 1987 ----- SECOND EDITION 1994 ----- THIRD EDITION 1999







"THE SHORT HIKER, Small Green Circles", 3rd ed. 1999, by Jean Aron:
Where did the book come from? In 30 years of exploring and hiking in Central
Pennsylvania, and interacting with many interesting people and places, I have
been surrounded by these beautiful mountains; captivated by the sights and
sounds of nature; informed and intrigued by the company of diverse friends; and
basically cornered into leading and doing organizational work for groups, so
that others might enjoy the HIKE, too. Through all of that, how could I have NOT
written the book? This book has essentially written itself. The field work has
taken 30 years, but it is not just MY book. It belongs to all of you.


 The Beginning. I love Central Pennsylvania! Even though I am not a native. I was
born and grown (but not very) in the relatively flat state of Iowa. My family
(husband and 2 sons and I) came to the Centre Region in 1969. I was not really a
hiker then. I was full-time mother, tennis player, and also liked to walk. But
as my family grew into their independence, and I learned more about
Pennsylvania’s woods and trails, the HIKE soon became an important part of my

Trails and Groups, Then and Now. In 1969 very few people were actively hiking,
and many old trails were forgotten and almost lost. I began leading hikes for
Faculty Women’s Club (now University Women’s Club) in 1971. In 1978 I started
maintaining a piece of Mid State Trail, and in 1981 I joined Penn State Outing
Club and the local Sierra Club group, and got to do some backpacking and trail
clearing, and a little bit of canoeing. I became a member of Keystone Trails
Association and of Mid State Trail Association. During the late ‘70s and early
‘80s my horizons were expanded with continuing education courses: nature study,
wildflowers, birding, x-c skiing, and interesting field trips with ClearWater
Conservancy. Meanwhile the Wednesday hiking continued to thrive, and in 1982 we
decided to write and publish a local guide book based on that experience, and
call it The Short Hiker. The book was updated in 1987; the 2nd edition was
published in 1994; and the 3rd (and final) edition in 1999.

Ridge and Valley Outings Club was founded in April 1991. I was pleased and proud
of the role I played in getting it started. I am hoping even more deeply that it
will continue to be a viable organization after I am gone. As I have said in the
past, "The most important thing a good leader can do is to find a good

1969 - Arrived in Centre Region. Not a real hiker, just a mother, but loved the
woods and walking.
1971 - Wednesday Hiking Group with Faculty Women’s Club was begun, by Lark
Miller (Mrs. Norman Miller).
1973 - Did some hiking with family. Wednesdays evolving. I, a born follower,
became a leader.
1974 - Earliest printed schedule for FWC Hiking: "HIKE OF THE MONTH" includes
Spring Creek, Indian Steps, Mt. Nittany, Walnut Springs Park, Shingletown Gap,
Colyer Lake, Beaver Pond, and Alan Seeger.
1976 - FWC Hikes settled to Wednesdays, every week, September to June. Arons
spent 6 months in Mississippi. Wednesday Hikes were led by Paige Thomas.
1977 - Resumed leading Wednesday hikes in February. That summer a few of us
continued with a series of day hikes on Mid State Trail, which was just 107 km
(67 miles) at that time. Hikers were Jackie Melander, Mary Schmidt, and a few
others, and also some of our children. My younger son, Steve, was 12.
1978 - I became an overseer for a section of Mid State Trail, above Bear Meadows
Natural Area.
1979 - "Fifty Hikes in Central Pennsylvania", by Tom Thwaites, was published. It
struck a chord in me, and presented a guideline for some more hikes.
1980 - My elder son, Carl, finished High School. I attended my first Mid State
Trail Overseers Rendezvous, and met some real hikers.
1981 - Mid State Trail was growing. I joined a big group of people in clearing a
new section of trail on Big Flat, which later became my section to maintain. I
joined Penn State Outing Club and Sierra Club. We took up cross-country skiing
and backpacking, mostly with PSOC. I began again writing poems, and
photographing all the beauty I was seeing.
1982 - Many hikers began asking me for suggestions. I was becoming "a trail
expert". I began writing down brief descriptions of hikes and assembling what
was to become "The Short Hiker". I looked unsuccessfully for a commercial
publisher. In August the book was ready, so we published it ourselves.
Commercial Printing did a fine job. And I learned how to be a book distributor.
1983 - My younger son, Steve, finished High School. My elder son, Carl, set off
for the wilds of Alaska. I spent more time hiking, clearing trails, organic
gardening, and being outdoors as much as I could. I was a member of ClearWater
Conservancy, Pennsylvania Wildlife Federation, Keystone Trails Association, and
Shaver’s Creek Nature Center.
1987 - An "Update to The Short Hiker" was printed at King Printing. This 30-page
booklet was designed to be inserted into the first book. It listed all the
changes that had taken place, and added about 4 more hikes. The covers were
illustrated by my son, Steve.
1988 - I proposed and worked to have Martin Gap (Rocky Ridge) designated a
Natural Area.
1989 - As nominator of Mid State Trail and Tom Thwaites for a "Take Pride in
Pennsylvania" award, I accompanied Tom & Barbara Thwaites to Harrisburg to
receive the award from Governor Robert Casey. In July I accompanied them to
Washington, D.C. to receive a "Take Pride in America" award at the White House,
with President George H.W. Bush.
1990 - Arons spent 5 months in Australia/ New Zealand. Wednesday Hikes were led
by Pam Santavicca.
1991 - Ridge and Valley Outings Club was formed, to "promote the enjoyment". I
was the first Chairperson.
1994 - A 2nd Edition of The Short Hiker was printed at Nittany Valley Offset.
1995 - The baton was passed to the next Chairperson at RVOC, Greg Tothero. I am
doing less strenuous hikes, and more outings with the Seniors on Tuesdays.
1998 - Jane Wood retired from leading the Senior Hikes. Colina Jordan continued
to lead. I still had not found a successor to lead Wednesday Hikes.
1999 - The 3rd Edition: The Short Hiker, Small Green Circles was printed, again
at Commercial Printing. The cover photos were provided by hiking friends. By now
my files were bulging with trail information and historic records. I was glad to
have the help of a good computer and printing equipment. I was able to write,
edit, and present the material "camera ready" to the printing company. The other
difference is that this edition has an ISBN, which makes it possible to sell it
through the larger book chains and on the Internet. A good way to enter the next
2000 - I was honored as "A Living Legend of Centre County, Pennsylvania" by the
County Bicentennial Committee.
2001 - New co-ordinating leaders for Wednesday Hikes are Falene Hamilton, Jean
Ware, and Barbara Lee. I can finally retire. Jill Smith is leading the Senior
2002 - Rich Scanlon withdrew as Chair of RVOC. I resumed as Interim Chairperson.
Lew Logan became RVOC Newsletter Editor.
2004 - Jean Ware is leaving PA. Ann Hettmansperger will be co-leader of
Wednesday Hikes. I am still looking for successors at RVOC and Mid State Trail

People Who Made a Difference. John F. Kennedy said, "One man can make a
difference, and every man should try." I used to wonder each year as new hikers
would sign up for my group, "What new person will I meet this year who will
change my life?" There were very, very many! State College is a town on the
move, and hikers would be with us for awhile and then move on to other things
and other places. Some of them became quite important in their own spheres of
interest. But like an old schoolteacher, I will always think of them fondly as
"My Hikers". I probably should not name them, for I will surely forget some.
Every individual who hiked with me, even once, has had some influence. But here,
in no particular order, are a few who stand out:
The woman who started the Wednesday Hiking Group -- Lark Miller. She did not
stay with us very long, but she got us started.
Others who have led or helped on Wednesdays were Paige Thomas, Alice Fleischer,
Jane Wood, Karin Shaw(died 2006), Pam Santavicca, Falene Hamilton, Barbara
Seeley (died 2003), Jean Ware, Barbara Lee, Ann Hettmansperger, et al.
My first Nature Study instructor and field trip leader, George Beatty, (died
2004) identified obolaria in Martin Gap. It would require several volumes to
explain George’s eccentric genius. We valued him for his knowledge and
perseverance, and put up with any quirks that came with the bargain. His late
wife, Alice Beatty, when she was President of ClearWater Conservancy, led very
successfully, I think, by always appearing to be frail, and flustered, and
really in need of help! And she always got it. It was a lesson in leadership
Bob Gruver arranged many interesting field trips by van, for ClearWater
Conservancy and others, including a Wildflower Pilgrimage to the Smoky
Mountains, and a birding trip to Cape May. His favorite thing was exploring
nature, finding interesting things and places, and taking people there to show
My first Birding teacher, Molly Heath, knows all the birds by song. She is avid
and expert, though humble, and never tires of looking for new birds, and
explains things patiently to neophytes.
Teaching us docent wannabes at Shaver’s Creek were Barbara (from the Center) and
David Middleton, and Corky and Cynthia Potter.
Clearing and maintaining trails, and leading PSOC backpack trips: Tom Thwaites.
He also was the first to come out with a hiking guide book, "Fifty Hikes in
Central Pennsylvania". I learned from some of his mistakes, and he in turn has
adopted some of my "short hike" preferences. Tom is greatly honored as the
builder of Mid State Trail. A plaque and stone monument on the Trail near Little
Flat were dedicated to him in 2003.
We took up cross-country skiing sometime in the ‘80s. A group of Faculty Women
took lessons from Instructor Bob Ricketts. (He has since been an important
builder of the YMCA.) I remember the quandary of how to divide the long list of
skiers into smaller groups for ski trips (in case it should actually snow).
Should they be divided by ability? Neighborhood? Preferred day? Age? Too
difficult. We finally settled on doing it Alphabetically! It never snowed
Most of my skiing was learned from friends: Ralph Seeley was x-c ski advisor to
PSOC, and good friends with Tom Thwaites, who was the hiking advisor. So many
weekends were spent doing whatever PSOC was doing. Barbara Seeley (died 2003)
also began to hike and ski with Ralph, and with me on Wednesdays as well. She
was the one who was worn down after 5 miles. You could set your pedometer by
My best friend was probably Jane Wood. As my Boalsburg neighbor, and co-leader
of the Hiking Group, and also an avid x-c skier, she was my mentor and the
person whose advice I most often sought. Jane is the real "short hiker", and
appears on the cover of the 3rd edition. I always needed her prodding to get my
skis out. Although I enjoyed skiing, I still needed a push. It seems I can do
anything -- as long as Jane does it first.
After Jane "moved to Tuesdays" and began leading "easy walks in the woods" for
Centre Region Senior Citizens, she soon had an avid co-leader, Colina Jordan,
who had also been a Wednesday hiker. Dutch-born, outspoken, and unconventional,
Colina was bold enough to go places we hadn’t thought of. She has shown me many
new hiking areas . No matter how long I’ve been roaming in the area, there are
still places I have never been. She keeps me humble. Once we hiked out of the
woods and found ourselves at a private cabin. The owner sat observing us warily
from his porch -- until Colina completely disarmed him by exclaiming, with
irresistibly good humor and her charming Dutch accent, "We are here! Is the
coffee ready?"
"Non-woody Plants of the Forest Floor" was a course taught by PSU Forestry
Professor Rex Melton. Several of us honed our skills at wildflower
Identification under his tutelage.
Another knowledgeable outdoor writer, who became a friend, was Marcia Bonta. We
visit her private nature preserve near Tyrone quite often, and sometimes follow
outings from her "Outbound Journeys" book.
An avid hiking/ backpacking companion in the ‘80s was Diana Dunn. At that time
she was Dean of the College of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. But
hiking for her was her true "reality". When the new club, Ridge and Valley
Outings, kicked off in 1991, the meeting took place at her house. She is still
hiking nearly every day.
Photography became a hobby for me sometime in the 1980’s. Lois Chavern, who
provided the cover photo for the 3rd Edition, has made an impact by teaching
some photo seminars for RVOC. She often inspires me to see things "in a better
light". Ann Hettmansperger, who gave us the back cover photo, provides keen
competition for Lois, though her main field of artwork is ceramics.
Art and Neen Davis. She was a regular with Wednesday Hikers, while he held the
Maurice Goddard Chair in Forestry at PSU. Later Art was appointed Secretary of
Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Resources, and they moved to Harrisburg. But
I remember Neen on the hikes, wearing pink socks and matching pink shirt pockets
and a broad smile. While they were in office, I always felt I had friends in
high places, whom I could call on anytime.
Longtime Rothrock District Forester, Ralph Heilig, was usually supportive of our
recreation, but when I wanted to have Martin Gap designated a Natural Area, I
had to go over his head to the State Forester, Jim Nelson. In May, the experts
came on a glorious inspection trip. To match their DER experts, I was able to
muster even bigger experts, (such as Rex Melton, who had been their old Forestry
Professor at Mont Alto campus, Robert Blackburn, Head of Geology at Juniata
College, outdoor writer Marcia Bonta, wild plant expert George Beatty, and some
active Sierra Club leaders. The official visit was an outstanding success. The
State Forester came away with a gleam in his eye and a pocket full of morel
mushrooms, and we knew the designation would be accomplished. Mr. Heilig always
had respect for me after that, and we were pretty good friends.
Mike Herman occasionally sought my advice, and gave us good advice in return.
His publication of Purple Lizard maps, and his outdoor articles in the Centre
Daily Times gave me renewed hope that the younger generation would continue to
visit and enjoy the woods.

Postscript:2004. My 30-year hike has now become 35 years of joyous memories. I
will always feel that my "30-year hike" was a success as long as Pennsylvania
has Hiking Trails and her people continue to enjoy them.

To the many hikers, short and long, whose lives have touched my own, I hope that
whatever path you choose, you will always be able to find Peace in the

Keep Hiking!

Jean Aron. 9-17-04


Copyright © 2004 - Jean Aron
All Rights Reserved
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Copyright © 2004 - Jean Aron
All Rights Reserved
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