Thomas T. Thwaites
1931 - 2014
In the late 1950's when Tom relocated from the mid-west to Rochester, New York to pursue his Doctorate studies he naturally gravitated to the company of other hikers and together they would take excursions around the Empire State. At some point, a member of the group suggested that they try exploring the hiking possibilities to their south, in the Keystone State. As Tom recounted it, the rest of the hikers just smiled knowingly to themselves at the naiveté of such a recommendation, as one replied, "But don't you know that Pennsylvania is paved". As his wife Barbara confirms, Tom stuck to that mistaken notion until they moved to State College. He then spent the next five decades guaranteeing that other hikers would not again underestimate the abundance, diversity, or challenge of the hiking experiences available in Pennsylvania, pushing his Rolatape measuring wheel of two meter circumference along hundreds of kilometers of treadway and writing detailed trail descriptions marbled with wry observations and novel asides. The geological formation known as the Allegheny Front, he noted in one of his Fifty Hike guides, can be seen from the moon.
In State College, Tom and Barbara also found a circle of like minded peers and friends whose rambles and walks in Penn's Woods led them to recognize the untapped potential for increased hiking opportunities and long distance backpacking through trail development and connectivity. This core group had both the vision and the dedication to chart a course of trail building and maintaining that would lead, over time, to the establishment of the Mid State Trail, the founding of the Mid State Trail Association, the opening of hiking and skiing opportunities along the Allegheny Front and in the Quehanna, the launching of the Keystone Trails Association's Trail Care Program and, not incidentally, inspiring generations of volunteers to join and continue their project.
Tom believed that walking was a fundamental aspect of what it meant to be human, that the big toe was as important to who we are as the opposable thumb. He described hiking, and the pleasure we get from being surrounded by and moving through nature, as an activity that reattunes us to our deepest selves. For him, a boot busting hike was not only a day well spent, but also a spiritual encounter with who we really are. This explains, as well, why Tom held the outspoken opinion that the hiking experience deserved to be protected from the encroachment of other forms of recreational trail uses, and always championed the designation of 'hiking only' trails. With walkers being the slowest and most vulnerable user on a trail, Tom would rail that multi-use trails left hikers "holding the dirty end of the stick".
Over the years, and through successive editions, Tom's trail guides have given countless hikers the confidence to leave the trailhead behind and explore the hidden recesses of Pennsylvania's natural landscapes and varied geography. His unparalleled impact on promoting the hikes and trail systems of the state can only be rivaled by his standing as a mentor of, and recruiter for, the trail care movement that has done so much to build and maintain those trails and keep them safe and accessible for the use of the general public. "A few people with hand tools can work miracles", he wrote. "Physically and emotionally, the rewards of trail work are as real as they are little known". Thanks to his passionate advocacy and magnetic approachability participants continue to experience those rewards today. Even at his most quixotic Tom never lacked for a willing and loyal Sancho Panza to follow his footsteps, lopper in hand.
In the dusky twilight at the end of a trail care work day, Tom would sit in the circle, along with the other tired yet convivial volunteers, as the half light of the campfire flickered and sent shadows dancing across the assembled faces. Here he was most at ease and gregarious as he swapped stories with the other old-timers and chuckled at the recounting of human foibles and follies that seemingly have no end. As people new to the crew leaned in so as to catch the fleeting remark, or chimed in with a comment, the enveloping darkness would grow and the words and bursts of laughter would mix with the smoke and the crackle of the blaze and drift up and away into the night.
Mid State Trail Association, Inc. is a Pennsylvania incorporated non-profit membership corporation, and an IRS registered charitable organization EIN# 25-1424971
Mid State Trail AssociationPO Box 885Huntingdon, Pa. 16652