What started out as a few women with a shared vision for enjoying everything nature has to offer has become, more than 25 years later, an impressive fellowship of women who have officially journeyed a total of 1,000 hikes.
In 1994, a group of women from John Wesley United Church banded together. They called themselves The John Wesley Strutters. Together they walked, paddled or snowshoed every Tuesday.
The group originated under the guidance Glenda Harten, and the baton was passed to Marj Kelland who became the principle leader of the group until 2013. After that time, other ladies took their turn at leading their outings.
One of those leaders is Ila Aho, a retired nurse and friend of Marj Kellan, who joined the group in 1998 after her retirement.
"To me it is not the destination but the sharing of time spent exploring our natural outdoor heritage accompanied by fellow enthusiasts new and old," said Aho. "Our outings are usually within 15 kilometres of town."
The group of intrepid women have explored areas local to the Sault, including the beach at Batchawana, Robertson Cliffs, Rock Lake Lookout, Hiawatha, Camp Kateri, Sand River, and multiple other trails around town. They've also embarked on sleigh rides and voyageur canoe outings.
Speaking to her experience after joining the group, Aho said, "The following years others joined from different walks of life. The group stabilized at approximately sixteen for the next several years. Since then the numbers have increased steadily until at present — mid-20s is a normal number with a second group averaging 10 to 15. Group 1 walks two hours and Group 2 one hour."
The group celebrated its 500th hike in March 2008.
After the closure of John Wesley Church, the group took on a new name and became 'The Tuesday Hikers,' and they also began meeting at a new location.
The location of outings is not normally revealed prior unless it's a full-day special outing.
The two groups generally meet up in the parking lot between the Legion and Willowgrove United Church before outings and for lunch around noon at an agreed upon location once their outing is complete.
There is one person assigned to an email list to advise of those special outings and party notices. This has since evolved into more of a news outlet, giving highlights and photos of the previous outings and events.
"Hiking in nature and sharing time with others is a real stress reliever. Each season — fall, winter and spring — all have their special moments," said Aho. "In the spring, you get to observe the wildflowers and new green sprouts in their fleeting moments of beauty along the forest path, the increase calls of birds as they return to the northern habitat, the different shades of green as you view the trees from a high elevation and the rushing water over the many water falls."
"Fall brings the changing colours of the trees and plants and the rustling of leaves underfoot as you hike and nature's warriors (bugs) are gone."
"Winter brings a pristine landscape, gently falling snow on trees ,frosted in snow after a winter storm or covered in white frost. The tinkling of branches as a gentle breeze moves their ice covered branches, looking back and seeing only your track in the white landscape."
In celebrating their 1,000th outing, one thing is clear. Their vision has endured throughout the years; Spending time in a natural setting while enjoying the company of friends and acquaintances.
"These are moments in time in hiking. The here and now, and there are no guarantees we will have the pleasure of witnessing again these same sights," said Aho.
The 1,000th hike celebration was held March 3 at the Sault Ste. Marie Conservation Authority Sugar Shack on Fifth Line. Two groups of ladies totalling 40 went out on their snowshoes. Some previous members who can no longer get out to hike met up afterwards for food, fellowship and conversation.
For more information contact: IlaAho@hotmail.com