The Buckeye Trail Story . . .

In 1958, Merrill Gilfillan wrote an article for the Columbus Dispatch proposing a trail from Cincinnati to Lake Erie. One of his hopes was that the trail would serve as an encouragement to young people to slow down and learn about their native land. Spurred on by the article, several people, including Merrill, met in Columbus in February, 1959 to discuss building such a trail. In June, they formed a non-profit organization – The Buckeye Trail Association.

The first 20 miles were dedicated on September 19, 1959 in Hocking County. Several of the founders and early leaders were among the 34 people making that dedication hike, including the BTA's most famous grandma, Emma Gatewood. From that beginning, the trail grew to over 1,444 miles under the auspices of the BTA. It was completed near Deer Lick Cave in the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area in 1980.

The purpose of the Association is to promote the construction, maintenance, and use of a state-wide trail system, within the State of Ohio, to be supplemented with side trails, campsites, and other facilities, so as to render accessible some of the historical and beauty spots of the Buckeye State. The trail shall be primarily a footpath, but certain portions may be designated for use by horsemen and/or other non-motorized users. Said corporation is organized and shall be operated exclusively for charitable, educational, and scientific purposes co-extensive with the purposes set forth in Section 501c(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 (or the corresponding provision of any future United States Internal Revenue Law) including for such purposes the making of distributions to organizations that qualify as exempt organizations under said Section.

Today, the Buckeye Trail Association is a large, strong body of volunteers who maintain and promote the trail. Though the entire route is marked, the Buckeye Trail continues to change and improve. The BTA looks for ways to move road sections off the roads, and to upgrade those off-road sections to high quality trail.

But the Buckeye Trail Association is more than just a management organization. It is also a social group. Several events are planned each year, both formally by the association, and by individual members. Most of these events are open to the public. You can check out the events page for a list of many of these.

Annually, the Association holds a gathering for all members, usually at a location near the trail. For three days, members are entertained and educated through a series of workshops and presentations. Several hikes are usually scheduled around the area. Finally, the annual business meeting, open to all members, is held during the gathering, giving every member a voice in the operation and future of the Association.

You are invited to join the Buckeye Trail Association. Simply fill out our membership form and send it to the address on the form. You will receive a new member's packet and the quarterly newsletter, Trailblazer. But most of all, you receive the satisfaction of helping maintain and improve one of America's longest and most diverse trails.

Photo courtesy of Marjorie
Gilliam Wood, Great-granddaughter
of Emma "Grandma" Gatewood.

Ohio's Hiking Great-Grandmother:
Emma Gatewood (1888-1973)

After raising 11 children on farms along the Ohio River and at the age of 67, the grandmother of 23 became the first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail alone and in a continuous hike. That was in 1955. Two years later, she hiked the Appalachian Trail again and later completed a third hike of the trail in sections. She is known for her legendary Keds sneakers that she wore instead of hiking boots and the laundry sack that she used instead of a backpack. Many call “Grandma” Gatewood the first thru-hiker celebrity. She appeared on the Today show and numerous other programs. She inspired two distinct movements in hiking—long-distance hiking for women and the ultra-lite movement. She carried just a few items with her, each chosen carefully so they could perform multiple functions. Including food, water and equipment, she rarely carried more than 20 pounds.


According to the press release from the museum, these include: "Pioneers who conceived of and developed the trail; those who organized or directed major trail organizations like the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Appalachian Trail maintaining clubs; longtime trail maintainers; leaders who promoted and protected the Appalachian Trail; hikers who have made significant accomplishments, and other persons who have enriched the culture or community of the Appalachian Trail by their association with it."


Bette Lou Higgins, Artistic Director for Eden Valley Enterprises, has completed the first phase of a project about “Grandma” Emma Gatewood, a founding member of the BTA.

Emma Gatewood project links: