KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Many of us take trips to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to take in the views and enjoy a few trails, but few are a part of the 900 Miler Club. One East Tennessee family has completed their quest to join the rankings.
Nature has always been a huge part of the Stewart family’s way of life.
“It’s been part of their lives since they were born. I don’t think they’ve not known that it was, you know, not a thing you didn’t have to do or there were other options like, ‘Okay we’re going to go hiking,'” said mom, Jennifer Stoneking-Stewart, about her two children.
Stoneking-Stewert started 8-year-old Landon and 10-year-old Elizabeth Claire young with family strolls and increasing their miles on trails.
“My mom got us into it. Like we started at Panther Creek, and she was like, ‘you want to hike in the Smokies and do the 900?’ and we were like, ‘yeah sure,'” said Landon.
That was five years ago. Now, the Jefferson County family has something to show for it. The medals the kids proudly wear display their completion of the 900 Miler Club.
It’s for those who have completed all of the trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Club was founded in 1995 by “Louisiana” Lou Murray and was the first official 900-miler hiker. Landon and Elizabeth Claire are among the youngest to do it.
“I have a log of everything, with all of the dates, and then the notes, and the exact mileage, and who we hiked with for every single hike we have done through the course of this journey since 2018,” said Stoneking-Stewert. Catching all of the details along the way. “And oh, like here’s notes of like hot and humid, kids saw soft shell turtle.”
Mom and the kids used their summer breaks to cross off many of those trails while Dad was at work.
Stoneking-Stewert says it taught her little ones endurance.
“It’s not just been that mental and that physical challenge because very much so for these guys it has been. It’s been mental, like, you get to a certain point within any point of exercise, it’s like it becomes your all right can I keep doing this or do I have to sit down and you know like give up and they long ago learned that the only way you’re going to get back to the car was if you get walking,” she said.
At a time when parents struggle to connect with their children, the trails provided a path to communication.
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“We come home and like talk about our day and what was the ‘funnest’, what was the hardest, and what we saw, and what was the takeaway. Like what was your favorite thing from the day for our main topic of the day,” said Elizabeth Claire.
The Stewarts encourage others to hit the trails even if they don’t conquer 900 miles.
“I would just say don’t play video games all day, at least go outside and do something,” said Landon. Their parents would agree.
Currently a little more than 800 hikers have hiked every trail in the park.