Inspiring stories: Four local women complete their 60th Fall Hiking Spree

Information provided by Summit Metro Parks

In September 1964, the Akron Metropolitan Park District’s Green Islands newsletter invited residents to hike seven trails between Oct. 1 and Dec. 1 to earn a hiking staff. “Hiking,” said Park Director Dr. Arthur T. Wilcox, “is one of the best forms of outdoor exercise for young and old.” That fall, 1,530 local residents completed the spree.

Today, the number of Summit Metro Parks’ spree trails has grown to 13, although only eight are required to earn rewards, and an amazing group of women are being recognized for their 60th year of participation.

Ranging from age 73 to 103, “original hikers” Joan Haby, Neva Ucker, Jennie Pier and Jennifer Hoffman have hiked the fall spree every year since 1964.

“Their stories serve as an inspiration for all, showcasing the transformative power of nature and the profound impact of consistent dedication,” Metro Parks’ spokesperson Claire Merrick said in a press release.

Joan Haby, who began hiking with her husband Larry before they were married, has completed all 60 years of the spree despite being injured in an auto accident. The couple’s children, Charles and Karen, joined in the tradition, and in 1971, Karen was believed to be the youngest person to be awarded a hiking staff that year after riding in a backpack rack along the eight trails at 13 1/2 months old.

A World War II Army nurse stationed in Korea, Neva Ucker later returned to Akron City Hospital to continue her career and completed her 58th fall hiking spree at the age of 100, with four generations of her family hiking along. When people see her hiking staff full of shields, they always ask what her favorite trail is.

Jennifer Hoffman also comes from a family of spree hikers. She earned her staff in 1964 with parents Elmer and Marion Hoffman, who hiked the trails together for the first 35 years. She recalls the early years where stream crossings, in particular, were much more primitive with only stepping-stones or narrow two-board bridges to help hikers navigate over the water.

Tradition is important for the Pier family, as Jennie Pier started hiking with her husband Russ in 1964’s inaugural year and now is often flanked by children and grandchildren on the trails. She cherishes pictures of the family enjoying the lake at Virginia Kendall and visiting the ducks at Little Turtle Pond at Firestone Metro Park, one of their eagerly anticipated hikes.

To learn more about the Summit Metro Parks Fall Hiking Spree, visit

Cleveland MetroParks recently kicked off its 2024 Trail Challenge, in which guests are invited to complete 10 trails in 10 different metroparks reservations on their own to earn a challenge sticker and prize. Visit for more details. ∞

Summit Metro Parks is honoring local trailblazers (l-r) Joan Haby, Neva Ucker, Jennie Pier and Jennifer Hoffman for participating in the Fall Hiking Spree since its inaugural year in 1964. Photo submitted.