Gary Eblen enjoys keeping fit, but you won’t find him exercising at some fancy gym. His workout happens on the trails, and roads of Western North Carolina and nearby areas where he can enjoy the beauty of the mountains.
“One of my favorite places to hike is in the Smokies. There are more than 900 miles of trails there,” says Eblen, the community outreach director for Diamond Brand. “A lot of the trails are old road beds, so you can cover a lot of ground.”
When he isn’t working at Diamond Brand, Eblen is most likely outdoors. For him, time is the biggest enemy when it comes to walking, but Eblen tries to put in at least 40 minutes of walking a day. Sometimes, when the days are longer, he manages to squeeze in 120 minutes. His passion for walking extends to leading community walks in the Hendersonville area where people join him along the Oklawaha Greenway, in historic Hendersonville neighborhoods, and on the trails at the Carl Sandburg Home.
When he isn’t walking, Eblen also serves on the board of Muddy Sneakers, a program that gets fifth graders outside the classroom and lets them learn through nature. Muddy Sneakers currently partners with schools in four WNC counties and reaches 800 students. Field instructors guide “expeditions” which are focused on themes directly related to the students’ science coursework.
“If you get kids learning about science outside, it gives them new opportunities for different ways to learn. For the most part they like it, and you’re still teaching to the standard curriculum,” he says. “Our toughest thing is raising enough money to be in all the schools that would like us to be there.”
For those who enjoy a long-distance hike, Eblen is getting set to embark on his own outdoor adventure. Starting from his home, Eblen’s going to walk to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one section at a time once a month. He says people are welcome to join him on the journey.
“I can walk from my house all the way to the Smokies on wonderful trails. That excites me,” he says. “Most of the sections are in the 30-35 mile range, so I hope to make it to the Smokies by fall.”
He quickly jokes, “I hope my body parts hold up.”
It sounds like this experienced hiker shouldn’t have any trouble reaching his goal.
To learn more about Muddy Sneakers, visit muddysneakers.org.