GET ACTIVE: Sharing a love of adventure at the Dayton Backpacker Campfire

It began in a classroom but led to a world of adventure.

“I didn’t know anyone who was backpacking, but I saw a backpacking class being offered at the Kettering Adult School and it sounded interesting,” Mary Ann Wendeln said.

Weekend backpacking trips with friends soon became a regular occurrence as Wendeln was hooked. So, when her backpacking instructor Deck Hunter established the Dayton Backpacker Campfire in 1979, there was no doubt that Wendeln would be a regular participant.

“I didn’t imagine it would be going on this long,” the now 70-year-old Kettering resident said with a smile.

More than four decades later, the Dayton Backpacker Campfire is still going strong. After a two-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the monthly meetings are back with both new and familiar faces.

The Backpacker Campfire is a free monthly event featuring speakers sharing their backpacking and hiking experiences. From challenging cross-country adventures to casual local day hikes, the subjects vary greatly. The 90-minute programs are held at 6:30 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month at Cox Arboretum – a new location as a result of the group’s recent partnership with Five Rivers MetroParks.

“Five Rivers MetroParks is excited to partner with Dayton Backpacker Campfire by hosting these monthly presentations and supporting a 43-year community tradition,” said Angie Sheldon, MetroParks outdoor recreation coordinator. “It’s a great opportunity to bring adventure enthusiasts together to hear inspiring presentations and learn about upcoming outdoor recreation events and programs taking place at MetroParks.”

Like Wendeln, Kevin Whitworth has attended Backpacker Campfire events from the beginning. His love of backpacking began when he was in college.

“My first backpacking experience was in a crater, in Hawaii, and I fell in love with it,” Whitworth said.

More than 40 years later, Whitworth still cherishes his outdoor time.

“There is nothing like the quiet and solitude of a walk in the woods,” he said.

Whitworth also enjoys the valuable information and invaluable camaraderie of the Backpacker Campfire events.

“It’s very casual and very laid back,” he said. “And you always learn something new.”

To learn more about the Dayton Backpacker Campfire, visit Or, better yet, check out one of their upcoming events.

Dayton Backpacker Campfire – Upcoming Events

(All programs are free and open to the public)

* Grand Canyon: Learn! Plan! Go!

What: Hiking the Grand Canyon is more than strapping on a pair of boots and hitting the trail. Charley Schuehrolz will share his Grand Canyon adventures and help others learn about lodging, logistics, gear and the preparation and training needed to make the dream of a Grand Canyon trip a reality.

When: Feb. 3, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: Cox Arboretum MetroPark, Fifth Third Conference Room

* Day Hiking: Exploring our Local Trails

What: Five Rivers MetroParks outdoor recreation coordinator Angie Sheldon will present an overview of the many hiking destinations in the region and cover equipment, tips, and resources to get started day hiking.

When: March 3, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: Cox Arboretum MetroPark, Fifth Third Conference Room

* Less Crowded Parks and Destinations in the Desert Southwest

What: Don and Sue Klosterman – who took a 7-day car camping trip out West – will highlight the outstanding day hike opportunities in several “lower traffic” parks and scenic destinations in the Nevada, Utah, and Arizona region.

When: April 7, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: Cox Arboretum, Fifth Third Conference Room

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