PERSONAL JOURNEY: Couple embarks on park tours post retirement

For some people, retirement may mean working part time. And for others, it may mean relaxing and spending more time with family and friends. But for Steve and Barb Hess, retiring from full time work means more time to pursue a hobby that began years ago – visiting and touring parks across the state and eventually across the country.

The couple met while they were attending the University of Dayton and were married on July 5, 1975. Barb majored in elementary education and Steve, secondary education. After graduation, Barb taught Kindergarten in Fairborn and eventually, at Northmont Schools in Englewood. Steve taught at Belmont High school.

“My last official day of teaching was walking the picket line with the other teachers in 1979,” Steve said.

Though Barb has always loved to walk, Steve got his exercise by playing basketball at UD. But after college, Steve began to gain weight since he was no longer playing as much as before.

“I went out one day and ran down to the gas station in my neighborhood,” Steve said. “When I got back, I had to sit on the steps of our house and rest. I was exhausted.”

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Eventually Steve was running seven days a week, 365 days per year. He ended up participating in marathons over his decades of running.

The Tipp City couple has two sons and Barb took a break from full time teaching from 1979-1998 to focus on raising the boys. She returned to Northmont to teach until she retired in 2011 at the age of 60. Steve ended his career at Lexis Nexis as the director of client engagement and retired after 31 years in January of 2021.

“I always hoped we’d end up walking together after we retired,” Barb said. “Steve was a good mentor for me because sometimes I felt guilty if I only walked for 30 minutes. Steve taught me to look at every day as a gift.”

In 2018, before Steve officially retired, the couple decided to hike all 18 parks within the Five Rivers Metropark system, beginning with Carriage Hill in Huber Heights.

“We started taking pictures and documenting our hikes on social media,” Steve said. “I didn’t start this until we had completed our 10th park – Deeds Point.”

Dubbing this the “Hess Park Tour,” Steve took photos and shared each visit with his network on LinkedIn.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and walking outside was one of the few things people could do to pass time during the lockdown. And most parks remained open, so people had places to go to exercise outside.

“We always tried to walk at least an hour at each park,” Steve said.

The couple discovered that some trails are better than others throughout the system. And some have interesting histories – like Possum Creek – the 11th park in their journey and the site of a now defunct Dayton Amusement Park – Argonne Forest. Remnants of the amusement park, including the dance floor, swimming pool and trolley cars, can still be seen in the park.

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The couple hikes in all seasons, and just completed their 67th hike, branching out to other parks in Ohio and beyond after completing the local Metroparks. This included Hocking Hills State Park, The Whitewater River Gorge Park in Richmond, Indiana, and most recently, the Cleveland Metroparks.

“We wanted to honor my parents, so we did our 50th walk at Glen Haven Memorial Gardens where they are buried,” Steve said. “Though every place we go isn’t necessarily a park, they all have a special meaning.”

That includes Daniel’s Peace Park in Germantown, named for a young man who passed away from a drug overdose.

“Daniel’s parents dedicated this park to him,” Barb said. “It’s really beautiful.”

Now when the couple leaves Ohio to travel for vacations or other reasons, they commonly research parks located near their destinations. Their visit to the popular tourist spot in Brown County, Indiana, included a hike during which they nearly got lost after losing sight of the path markers.

Steve said though they bring their phones along so they can take pictures, they mostly keep them in their pockets so they can unplug and enjoy being in nature.

“We have great conversations while we are hiking,” Steve said. “We just love being together outside.”

And they each realize that now that they are in their 70′s, treating each day as a gift is even more important. They know that there are still many more adventures for them out there.

The couple signed up for a membership to the national park system, and they hope to visit as many of those as possible.

“Mentally this just keeps you fresh,” Steve said. “We don’t watch TV much anymore and just like discovering things. Our favorites so far are the Dayton Metropark system.”

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