Concord Heritage Heights resident leads seniors into the wild

  • Donald Hayes stands on the walking path outside Havenwood Heritage Heights. Emanne Khan / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/10/2019 4:13:28 PM
Modified: 5/10/2019 4:13:16 PM

New Hampshire is undoubtedly one of the best states in the nation for hiking. From wooded trails to craggy mountain paths, there is no shortage of varied terrain to challenge local nature-lovers. Given the abundance of opportunities to explore the outdoors, former Keene resident Donald Hayes was surprised by the lack of organized hiking activities at Havenwood Heritage Heights when he moved to the Concord retirement community last fall.

For Hayes, who first hiked at six years old, nature is in his blood. From Mount Katahdin to the Grand Tetons, he has conquered numerous peaks and is a member of the Appalachian Mountain Club. However, hiking provides him with more than just a chance to test himself against the obstacles of the earth.

“It’s sort of a spiritual journey when you’re out in the mountains,” he said. Given how it has enriched his life, self-described “people person” Hayes was eager to get his neighbors involved.

An October presentation about the trail system of Concord by Assistant City Planner Beth Fenstermacher solidified his determination to start a hiking club. With the help of the Havenwood Heritage Heights administration, he organized a meeting for community members in which he “gave a little background of some of the hiking I’d done in the past, and why I think it’s good for us to keep hiking.”

Many more people than expected attended the presentation, with more than 30 signing up after listening to Hayes.

“We started the hikes every other Saturday in October,” Hayes said.

As of May 1, the group boasts around 60 members and has completed about half of the 31 Concord trails. Even with the unpredictable weather of the winter months, Hayes points out that they have only missed one hike due to an ice storm, and attracted an average of 14 hikers for the month of April with that number expected to rise as the warm weather returns.

While taking to the trail may seem like a solitary endeavor, for Hayes, the highlight of the past several months of outdoor exploration has been the camaraderie that has developed among the hikers.

“We laugh, we sweat, we share granola bars,” he recalled of their recent expeditions.

In addition to allowing Hayes to make new friends, he has found the greatest reward of the excursions in encouraging older residents who are nervous about the rigors of hiking to give it a shot.

“We’re talking about some people who are 95 years old,” he pointed out.

Hayes is eager to expand club programming, assembling a five-person committee of fellow hikers to oversee their various activities. A monthly newsletter highlights a recent “Full Moon Activity” as well as the newly-formed “Adventure Hikers” offshoot group who tackle more strenuous hikes. Hayes shared that there is even talk of organizing some overnight expeditions, perhaps into the White Mountains.

Ultimately, Hayes is pleased with the unexpected popularity of the club and excited for its future.

For him, the following quote featured in the May edition of his newsletter could not ring truer: “to walk in nature is to witness a thousand miracles.” He has made it his goal to share them. 

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