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You’re a Good Man, Jim Kern

Back when I first started Backpacker magazine I met the man who founded the Florida National Scenic Trail.  Jim Kern came to my magazine office to sell me a story about the trail.  I was impressed and bought his story which he hadn’t yet written.

Jim Kern Aug 2012I liked Jim and we became friends.  He invited me to speak at the annual meeting of the Florida Trail Association.  After that we began taking a three-to-four day backpacking jaunt about once a year.  On our treks we talked a lot about trails between Jim’s pointing out birds he’d spy along the trail.

In the mid 1970s I got a call from Destry Jarvis of National Parks & Conservation Association. He wanted to see if I could get hiking clubs to send representatives to Washington to speak to Congress about the needs of the Appalachian Trail.  Congress was having an oversight hearing on the Appalachian Trail and its needs.

Jim was the only one of all the hiking and conservation organizations I called, who came to DC.  He and I were the two non-paid organizational people to speak to Congress, along with Appalachian Trail Director, Paul Pritchard and of course, Destry.


Founding the American Hiking Society

After the hearing, Jim, Paul and I had a chat about the hiking community’s need for a representative arm in Washington to counteract the rising lobbies for Off Road Vehicles and snowmobiles.

Thus we founded, the American Hiking Society and we financed it out of our pockets for several years until we could rouse the interest of hiking clubs and outdoors equipment merchants.

We did our planning of American Hiking Society on our hikes.  Jim agreed to become its first president, with all the work associated in getting a new organization up and running.  I discovered that Jim is the most enthusiastic achiever for hiking trails I’ve ever met.

Over the years Jim has spear-headed other organizations around his trail interests.  He founded of course the Florida Trail Association as well as Friends of the Florida Trail to support and build the Florida Trail.

And he took on the enormous responsibility to organize and direct the Hikanation hike across America to promote a foot trail from coast to coast, which finally came to fruition in 2000 as the American Discovery Trail.

Taking Disadvantaged City Youths to the Mountains

At one point Jim called to see if I’d be willing to serve on a board of directors for another outfit he was eager to launch to enable needy city kids to experience backpacking in choice backcountry spots.  I agreed, and in a small way helped Jim get the Big City Mountaineers up and running.  

This year the organization is taking 400 disadvantaged youngsters on week-long backpacking trips to outstanding mountain  hiking spots as Colorado,Wyoming, and California, or on 8-day canoe trips in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area on the borders of Minnesota and Canada.

BCM puts together groups of five youngsters with a leader from their home organization, plus a BCM leader and experienced backpacking volunteers.  There thus is one adult for each of the youngsters in a group.

The volunteers actually pay a fee to go along on the trip. But the youth have all their expenses paid by BCM and their backpacking equipment supplied as well.

This year they tell me BCM is “Celebrating 25 years providing under-served youth with transformational wilderness experiences.

7,000 Kids, 5,000 Mentors [the volunteers who pay to participate], 36,000 Nights Under the Stars…..and counting.”

Jim Kern’s  Bucket List

I’m always amazed that Jim’s energy never flags.  He is now off on still another major Jim Kern-undertaking for trails.

A year ago last April Jim and I began planning our next get-together.  He suggested we try a place where he might see some of the Mexican birds that cross the border at that time of year.

I discovered that Patagonia, Arizona near the Mexican border, is a prime birding spot.  So Jim and I camped there and birded for a few days.  That is, Jim birded and I tagged along.

I enjoyed seeing what a peculiar breed birders are with their i-pads that not only have detailed photos and descriptions of birds, but the sounds of the bird calls.

Jim added quite a few birds to my life-list, including a colorful coppery-tailed trogon, about the size of a pigeon and has a dark glossy green back, separated by a thin white streak from its bright red belly.

In the evening around our campfire Jim persuaded me to accept a leadership role in his latest, new organization.

Jim sees a pressing need to “close the gaps’ on all the National Scenic Trails before it’s too late.  The only one of them that has closed its gaps is the Appalachian Trail.

There are ten other national scenic trails with yawning gaps.  The Florida Scenic Trail, for instance, has only about two-thirds of its length intact. There are gaps of 310 miles in its entire 980-mile length.

The objective of Jim’s new Hiking Trails for America is to find the means to close those gaps.

Hopefully Congress can be persuaded to provide each of the remaining scenic trails a federally overview package similar to the one they enacted for the AT.

But let Jim tell you more about it. Go to his Hiking Trails for America website.

I’ve called Jim my Living trail hero for a reason.

in early issues of Backpacker I ran a series called “Elders of the Tribe.”  These were stories about my heroes who had led the pioneering effort to get trails built and preserved in our nation’s forests, mountains, deserts and canyons.

They were men and women who had  passed on long ago. And I didn’t want to give readers the impression that Jim had lost any of his unquenchable energies on behalf of trails.

More about my Elders of the Tribe in later posts.

One Response

  1. Steven Reinhold
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    You are both living legends! Thanks for the story about Jim, Bill!

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