Club introduces Tellico Village hikers to new people, places

Hikers prepare to take to the trail with Muddy Boots hiking club in Tellico Village.

While the Muddy Boots hiking club is part of the New Villagers and is made up primarily of Tellico Villager residents who have not been in the community for a long period of time, its doors are open to anyone.

“We have people that graduated from New Villagers, but they’re still eligible to come,” Muddy Boots coordinator George Zola said. “We don’t cut it off when they get out of New Villagers.”

But while anyone can join, the big focus of the group is to introduce hikers to new people and new places.

“It’s designed to introduce people to hiking and to different areas in East Tennessee for them to explore,” Zola said. “We try to keep our hikes between four and five miles. People that are just starting out, that’s probably a good distance for them. We try to keep it easy, but we’ll throw in one or two hikes that are what you would think of as moderate just to challenge people a little bit.”

Zola said that when he first got involved with the group his biggest concern was about seeing new places. He feared each hike would be scheduled in the Smoky Mountains and was happy to find out otherwise.

“They’re just getting exposed to different parts of East Tennessee, which I was very happy with,” he said. “... You’re seeing other parts of the area that you might normally not get to. I’ve only been in the Village less than a year and a half, and I just love it. I just love getting out. My wife and I have hiked for a long time. I just like getting exposed. ... Just getting exposed to the different areas and the diversity around Tennessee is just spectacular.”

For another Muddy Boots coordinator, Sue Lehmann, the biggest focus is somewhat different.

“I enjoy seeing the different things, but for the most part, socially, I would say it’s really good,” she said. “I like meeting everybody, and people are happy to be out there hiking. A lot of people at New Villagers when they introduce themselves they say, ‘Oh, we really like hiking.’ So it’s just kind of a popular thing, and it’s something that a lot of people can do with no problem really.”

Where the group takes off socially, Zola said, is in the amount of time the hikers get to spend with each other on the scheduled hikes, which often involves carpooling to a destination sometimes an hour or more away, hiking for a few hours on the trail and even having a picnic as a group after the hike.

With anywhere from 20-40 people who attend each hike, Zola said the group provides a social atmosphere. As weather warms the group could also see a slight uptick in hikers, even if it is just one or two additional hikers.

“We’ve got a pretty good hardcore group of people that will come out,” Zola said. “We’ll pick up some, but 40 is kind of a big group to go out. But I think we will see more, probably some of the new people that may want to give it a try one or two times just to see what it’s all about.”

Even for those that have been in the Village for a long time, Zola said there could be a simple reason that Muddy Boots is an  attractive group with which to hike.

“It’s physical activity,” he said. “People may walk around their neighborhood and may do a half mile or a mile, but if you’re doing a hike, you’re doing four miles, so you’re probably pushing yourself a little bit farther. You’re getting out; you’re getting fresh air.”

Lehmann said Muddy Boots sends out information about hikes regularly, and potential hikers can sign up for that information at New Villagers meetings. Information on the hikes can also be found at  muddy-boots.