Springfield News-Leader Monday, November 28, 2011

Front Page

Man hopes to hike every national trail

If he reaches his goal, Bart Smith, 52 will have walked 54,000 miles of National Trails by the time the trail system turns 50. The Tacoma, Washington, native is hiking the Trail of Tears--a 880-mile trail--and hopes to finish in a week. Next, he will tackle the El Camino Real de los Tejas Historical Trail and then Oregon Trail. Smith is also a professional photographer, and he is documenting his journey through photos and writing.

Bart Smith writes about, takes photos of his hiking adventures.

It might not seem Bart Smith is in a rush to finishing hiking the Trail of Tears, but the veteran hiker admits there's a schedule to keep. Once he finishes his current trek of the main route of the 2200-miles long trails system in about one week, Smith will go south to hike the El Camino Real de los Tejas Historical Trail.

After Smith walks across parts of Louisiana and Texas, he will prepare to hike the Oregon Trail.

Smith, 52, is a hiker with a mission. Starting in 1992, he has hike all of the National Scenic Trails and is intent on hiking all the National Historic Trails by the time the trails system's 50th Anniversary is celebrated in 2018. If he meets his goal of hiking almost 30 trails, he'll have to walk about 54,000 miles. Smith just isn't hiking trails. The Tacoma, Washington, man is taking photo equipment along to document his experiences. His career as a professional photographer allows him enough time off to hike extreme distances.

Taking along a couple of cameras, lenses, a tent and other equipment means dealing with quite a load, Smith said. Smith, who is "road hiking" on roads close to the trail, said he is too old at 52 to carry a backpack. Instead, he uses a three wheeled baby jogger to carry

his equipment on walks averaging 18 miles a day. "That just saves my back and shoulders tremendously," he said.

Smith deserves credit for his effort to hike the roster of National Trails, National Parks Service trail coordinator Steve Elkington said. "I appreciate what Bart is doing," Elkington said from his office in Washington, D.C. But he wonders about some of Smith's goals. Elkington wonders how Smith is going to negotiate the Iditarod Trail, which normally is used by dog sledders. "I don't know if Bard has that capacity," Elkington said.

Smith has published books about the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and several other trails. But he concluded changes in publishing have made coffee table books harder to create. That's why he's turned to selling prints of photos he shoots while hiking. Smith estimates he's shot around 100,000 slides and digital images while on the trails.

Smith walked through Springfield last Thursday and ended up pitching his tent in Crane that evening. The day before Thanksgiving, Smith's wife, Bridgie, drove from Illinois to pick up Smith so he could attend a family Thanksgiving celebration. Celebrating a holiday that includes a meal he didn't cook is a treat, Smith said. The usual routine while hiking is to stop at stores and purchase quick-to-cook groceries.

When it comes to hiking the Trail of Tears that follows the route used by the Cherokee Indians forced to move to Oklahoma in the 1830s the most serious hazard was the heat, Smith said. Smith originally left Dayton, Tennessee, in late May, but three days of temperatures in the 90s and humidity to match forced him to quit. Ironically, resuming the hike in October put him on a schedule comparable to that experienced by the displaced Cherokee who contended with bitterly cold weather, Smith said. "Actually, I'm hiking the trail at the same time the Cherokee did," he said.