DAYTON —Semi retired and looking for his next adventure, Andy Niekamp started a club over a decade ago hoping to bring together people who like to hike or want try the pastime.
He said the group Dayton Hikers far exceeded his expectations. People were making new friends, exploring parts of the area, and were living a healthier lifestyle.
“The combination of the exercise, the health benefits, making a friends, and bringing like-minded people together was pretty powerful and it still continues today,” Niekamp said.
Local hiker Karen Power nominated Niekamp as a Dayton Daily News Community Gem for his work as leader in the hiking community.
His hiking club, Dayton Hikers, has grown to over 7,000 members and is the most active outdoor group in the Miami Valley.
“Andy Niekamp dedicates his entire life to providing opportunities for himself and for others to get exercise, explore nature, live a healthier lifestyle, and make our community a better place to live,” Power said.
Along with his work to get people of all experience levels outside and hiking, he’s also active in using hiking as a forum to encourage trail maintenance volunteering and to raise funds for community groups, from Ohio State Nature Preserves and St. Vincent DePaul. In 2021, $800 was raised to help with 15 miles of new Greene County trail.
He also promotes trails to policy makers, like when he walked from Dayton to the state capitol in Columbus to raise awareness.
Niekamp said he wasn’t sure what to expect when he first formed the group and the positive response over the years, including the Community Gems nomination, is a good feeling.
“Hiking is one of those things that makes our community a better place to live,” Niekamp said.