Duluthian Maryjeanne Arneson didn't want to spend her golden years inactive.
"I've never been very good at cards and I don't care for watching TV. What I want is to be out in nature," Arneson said.
But hiking by yourself is "no fun" and somewhat dangerous when "over a certain age," she said. So she started a senior hiking class in conjunction with the College of St. Scholastica in 2011.
After the six-week program ended, Arneson and five others decided to continue on, hiking a different trail in Duluth every week until the snow fell. Five years later, though few of the original members remain, the Senior Hiking Friends are going strong and about to begin their sixth hiking season.
"We're called the Hiking Friends because that's really what we are. We're a group of diverse individuals with one thing in common, we love to be outdoors and in nature," Arneson said.
The group meets at 10 a.m. in the Mount Royal Fine Foods parking lot every Thursday morning from the last week of May through the last week of September. Arneson creates a calendar outlining the hike locations each week. The group generally sticks to moderate trails such as the Bagley Nature Area, Western Waterfront Trail, Chester Creek, Kingsbury Creek Trail and the Lakewalk.
"It's not an exercise group, it's a modest hiking group. We're not out for calisthenics, but you should be able to keep up with us," said member Louise Thureen.
Thureen joined the group about two years ago. She drives from Two Harbors to take part in the hikes.
"I think the group has probably added 10 years to my life. It's much better than sitting at home, not knowing what to do with yourself," Thureen said.
Throughout their walks, the group does stop every once in awhile to "appreciate nature," Thureen said. Each member of the group has their own niche. Thureen is particularly interested in the geography of the area and she often points out physical features of the land. Arneson ran a flower nursery for 30 years, so she takes note of the flowers along the trails. Another member, Mike Rushton, is the "tree expert," according to Arneson.
"That's what's so fun about hiking with other people. You can learn so much from each other," Arneson said.
Rushton joined the group two years ago after seeing a letter in the Budgeteer about it. He's especially enjoyed discovering nearby trails he hadn't visited before.
"Last year we went to Lincoln Park. That's three blocks away from my house. But I had no idea it was there and so beautiful," Rushton said.
The group is moderately accommodating to hikers' needs. Lincoln Park was difficult for some of the hikers last year.
"We don't do a lot of climbing, but there are a few trails that have their ups and downs. I know Lincoln Park last year, we had some people who had to stop about halfway through, and that's fine," Arneson said. "Plus we help each other along."
Each spring the Hiking Friends meet in the spring to determine their hiking routes. The first hike, on Piedmont Trail, is scheduled for May 26. Anyone interested in joining the group may contact Maryjeanne Arneson at (218) 724-1793 for more information.
Clara Pesola examines a large fungus found on a tree while hiking in Hartley Park in 2014. (Photo submitted)