When Defiance County Commissioner Ryan Mack says he’s hitting the trail, he doesn’t mean the campaign one.
Mack can be found several times a week hiking along area trails. He said hiking not only provides some physical exercise but “depending on the trail system you’re on, it also helps develop a sense of community.”
“Every hike I’ve had in our area, I have met and run into overwhelmingly friendly people just enjoying the outdoors,” Mack said.
Mack first became interested in hiking and exploring trails as a child. His father took him hunting and fishing, helping instill a fondness for hiking and the great outdoors.
His love of trails increased later, as Mack’s best friend in the Army had been a mountain guide in Colorado prior to enlisting and took him on several trips when they were stationed in Washington State.
“He and I ended up going on a lot of trips to Rainer National Park and the Olympic National Park, where we did a lot of hiking and climbing,” Mack recalled. In fact, one of Mack’s favorite hiking memories was at Olympic National Park.
“It’s just a beautiful place and is known for being a very rare climate rainforest,” he said.
To date, Mack has hiked in six states, as well as two other countries.
Weekly, he now can be found taking a short walk on one of the many trails in the region. Mack said he manages to get a couple of longer distance hikes each month too.
He’s also introducing his children, Caroline and Henry, to hiking as well. Mack said another of his favorite memories associated with trails is one of the first hikes with his kids in Defiance County.
“We had a lucky day when it comes to wildlife sightings,” he recalled. His children were able to watch bald eagles, an owl and blue herons. They even found butterfly cocoons and cicada shells.
His children still love going on hikes with him.
“My kids always enjoy a new trail,” he said. “At the age they are, everything is about exploring something new in the wilderness.” Mack said he’s proud that Defiance County has so many great trails and parks for individuals to discover and enjoy.
“I think the continued work by the different municipalities and even private organizations to improve parks throughout Defiance County has been tremendous,” he said. “ During the pandemic, people needed something to be able to do (and getting out to a park or on a trail was ideal). I think it has led to a great resurgence in many communities to take a look at parks and trails and the quality of life it brings to any community.”
Mack pointed out there are many great trails in the area including ones at Independence Dam State Park, Penney Nature Center, Oxbow Lake and others.
“I hope to see more public awareness for trails through Defiance County,” he said. “Many people are unaware that we have one national scenic trail (the North Country Trail) that runs from North Dakota over 4,600 miles to Vermont and actually comes through Defiance County. We also have the Buckeye Trail, which … runs a loop all the way around the state.”
History buffs also can take a walk along the Tow Path in the county. “The Tow Path along the old canal is a great highlight to the past of our community and, if hiked through, actually leads up into the Toledo Metro Parks Systems -- which gives a person insight into how connected our communities have been for so long,” Mack said.
Mack even helped bring a water trail to the area.
“The Maumee River Blue Water Trail was a great enhancement to our area,” he said. “I worked as commissioner with Stephanie Singer, who at the time was with our county soil and water (district) to bring that reality to our community. We are roughly the halfway point in a kayaking trip affectionately known as Fort to Port. It’s another feature in our outdoor arsenal that brings quality of life to the community.”
Trails are great quality of life assets for any area.
“I know that having more trails, and better trails in our (county) makes life better for our community,” Mack said. “ It gives people access to our beautiful natural resources and walking through the woods, or along a river, or through some natural grasslands just helps provide some clarity and relaxation in stressful lives. It’s also a great family-friendly adventure. Instead of kids staring at screens, it challenges them to get out and experience life rather than just watch it. It’s also easy exercise. It doesn’t matter what type of trail; I have seen people walking, riding bikes, or running.”
Hiking trails also have economic benefits for communities. They increase the value of nearby properties and make communities a more attractive place to live, according to the American Hiking Society. A good trail system also may affect where a business or industry decides to locate, as trails are considered a great amenity for a community to offer. They can help attract workers, and their use helps lower medical costs. According to a report by the National Park Service, individuals who took part in outdoor recreation such as hiking filed 14 percent fewer health insurance claims than those who did not utilize parks or paths as part of their lifestyle.
No matter the reason, Mack encourages others to get out and enjoy area trails.
“Defiance County has abundant natural resources, beautiful parks for kids to play that I know every municipality has worked to improve over the years, as well as, great state parks. I would encourage anyone to try something new in any of these places we have whether it's hiking, kayaking, running or just going to have lunch and enjoy the outdoors,” he said. “ Also, remember, many of these places have associated outdoor groups that help maintain and promote what is offered. If you really enjoy these places, don’t be afraid to volunteer to get out and help make them even better.”