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Ohio students follow couple's Laurel Highlands walking trek

Mary Pickels
| Friday, May 12, 2017, 8:57 p.m.
Art Dunn, 79, gets a kiss from his wife, Peggy Dunn, 65, while at their shelter along the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail in Somerset County, on Monday, May 1, 2017.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Art Dunn, 79, gets a kiss from his wife, Peggy Dunn, 65, while at their shelter along the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail in Somerset County, on Monday, May 1, 2017.
Art Dunn, 79, holds a salamander that was found on the trail at Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail in Somerset County, on Monday, May 1, 2017.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Art Dunn, 79, holds a salamander that was found on the trail at Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail in Somerset County, on Monday, May 1, 2017.
A cross necklace is worn by hiker Art Dunn, 79, as he and his wife Peggy, 65, rest at a shelter along the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail in Somerset County, on Monday, May 1, 2017. Dunn began wearing the cross along with his current wife, Peggy Dunn, after meeting each other at church. Dunn's first wife died in 2009 and the former marathon runner began taking up long hikes as a way to manage his grief.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
A cross necklace is worn by hiker Art Dunn, 79, as he and his wife Peggy, 65, rest at a shelter along the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail in Somerset County, on Monday, May 1, 2017. Dunn began wearing the cross along with his current wife, Peggy Dunn, after meeting each other at church. Dunn's first wife died in 2009 and the former marathon runner began taking up long hikes as a way to manage his grief.

Art Dunn, 79, of Newton Falls, Ohio, enjoys a good walk. A good, long walk.

He recently launched his fifth such walk, this time leaving his home state and tackling the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail.

And for the first time, he was not alone.

A widower whose first wife, Doris, died of cancer in 2008, Dunn took to mapping out walking routes in his native state.

“I was devastated with pain and grief. I started walking,” he says.

His grandson, Kevin Dunn, was a fourth grade student and told his teacher “his grandfather was going for a walk,” Dunn say, laughing.

Soon after, Dunn began phoning the school while on his walks, updating the class on his travels.

Dunn and his new wife, Peggy Dunn, 65, strode along the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail this spring, hoping to complete a 70-mile, weeklong backpacking trip from Seward to Ohiopyle.

After setting out on April 27, they encountered bad weather and rougher terrain than they expected.

They covered 50 miles in six days before Peggy Dunn's backpack aggravated an old shoulder injury and they abbreviated their trip.

They remain in good spirits, and hope to start out again from Seven Springs Mountain Resort, their stopping point, one day, armed with better gear.

“This was a very good training trip. It let us know what we need,” Art Dunn says.

The walk, Dunn says, was a celebration of the couple's new life together; they married on Aug. 6, 2016, after meeting in church.

“We are building our own memories now,” Peggy Dunn says.

As with Dunn's previous walks, students in teacher Rob Bauman's fourth grade class at Newton Falls Intermediate School followed along on a classroom map.

“My social studies classes have been tracking him in and out of every one of his trips. He's kind of a pillar in our little village. The kids just love it,” Bauman says.

Bauman says when Kevin Dunn, now a senior, mentioned his grandfather's walks, Bauman started talking with Art Dunn.

“He would call in every day and we would plot on my great map of Ohio in the classroom where he went,” he says. “We use a tiny Mr. Dunn face (pin). ... We just move him right along.”

Over the last seven years, Dunn's logged thousands of miles on foot. The former marathon runner, retired steelworker and Marine felt compelled in 2012 to walk in honor of the people who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

He headed for Shanksville, Somerset County, closest community to the United Airlines Flight 93 crash site, and marched on to Washington, D.C., making the trip in 22 days.

Other walks have included a Four Corners of Ohio tour and a 31-day walk around Lake Erie.

Bauman says his students are learning skills including map reading, figuring out directions, and history from the sites Dunn visits.

“Lake Erie and its perimeter, Shanksville, 9/11, that's all important history. Now, with Laurel Highlands elevation maps, we can see how steep of a hill he's climbing,” Bauman says.

Dunn gives examples young students can relate to, Bauman says, like describing a landmark's height as equivalent to stacking a trio of the Newton Falls water tower atop each other.

Stacey Magda, group sales manager with the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, helped the Dunns plan their trip.

“I'm the (bureau's) official/unofficial outdoor rec girl,” she says.

Having completed the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail several times, she's able to make suggestions to hikers from planning to weather to levels of exertion to expect to trail resources.

She and the bureau's director of public relations, Anna Weltz, hiked out to meet the Dunns on May 1 and welcome them to the Laurel Highlands.

The couple popped out of their shelter, where they had a cozy fire going, and hugged their visitors. They had hiked almost 6 miles that rainy, muggy day, and welcomed the women's gifts of fresh water and cold Gatorade.

Showing off his homemade walking sticks, old broom handles equipped with rubber tips, Dunn laughed as he recalled chasing a mouse from their shelter the night before by shining a flashlight on it.

“We're always thinking,” he says.

Dunn returns to Bauman's classroom at walk's end with a slide show of his adventures. Those visits inspire the students to think about traveling, Bauman says.

He also has found a way to inspire his students when any whining or complaining starts.

“I ask, ‘What would Mr. Dunn do?' ” he says.

Dunn finds inspiration in those he meets on his walks, from people who invite him into their homes to two men he encountered once near Cleveland.

“They asked, ‘You walking with the Lord?' I said yes, and they asked me to say a prayer for them. I grabbed their hands and said a prayer,” Dunn says.

The couple say they found the trail beautiful, and enjoyed their walk up to the Jumonville Cross near Hopwood in Fayette County, a popular hiking destination.

More walks are planned, Dunn says, backpacking and day trips, all with Peggy at his side.

Unlike Neil Diamond, he's no longer a solitary man.

Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MaryPickels.

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