By Kevin Noonan
You can take a leisurely stroll or work up a serious sweat. You can wear $200 Nikes or those old Keds you found in the back of the closet. You can go long or short, fast or slow, and you don’t even have to show up if you don’t want to.
It’s also the oldest form of exercise in history — and the easiest — and that’s why the Wilmington Trail Club has thrived for more than 80 years.
That means the club has been around longer than most of its current trails have existed and longer than any of its current members have been alive, even though some have been part of the club for 50 years. The Wilmington Trail Club was formed in 1939, when Ted Darling, a hiking enthusiast who had just moved to Wilmington to work for the DuPont Co., enlisted a group of co-workers to join him. There were no suburbs around Wilmington back then, or state parks with carefully laid-out trails.
So, a lot has changed over the years, but the main reason people join the club hasn’t changed in more than eight decades — get some exercise while enjoying nature and the company of other hikers.
There have been other changes, including the addition of cycling, kayaking and even cross-country skiing, although hiking remains the most popular choice. The membership has steadily grown over the years and there are now almost 800 members in the club, and it sponsors more than 400 events a year.
However, the price remains a throw-back — just $18 a year. Plus, you can take part in two events for free before deciding to join.
“There’s no question about it, joining the Wilmington Trail Club was one of the best decisions I ever made,” says Dave Boyer, the club’s publicity chair. “I meet a lot of nice people and I go to a lot of cool places, and that’s a good combination and a good deal for $18.”
Those cool places include state parks in Delaware and nearby states, and there are hikes at private preserves where naturalists talk while they walk, educating members about the state’s plant and animal life. The hikes can be three miles or 30 and they can involve just a few hikers or, as in a recent hike at Winterthur, 61 of them.
Boyer retired in 2019 and joined the Wilmington Trail Club in 2020, and his story is typical, as almost all members join for the same reasons — good health and good fun.
“I hiked a lot on my own [before joining], but it was nice to hike with other people and share the experience with them,” Boyer says. “It’s not competitive. Basically, it’s a group of like-minded people and many of them become good friends. We’ve even had people who met through the club and ended up getting married.
“The one thing we really stress is that everybody is different,” Boyer adds. “Everybody has different goals and different levels of conditioning, but what they all have in common is the love of the outdoors and a desire to be physically fit.”
Aram Terzian, 71, has been a member of the club for 15 years and is the current president. He moved to Delaware after living in the New York area and was attracted to the Wilmington Trail Club because it was more than just trails — the club also sponsors cycling and kayaking and Terzian loves to do both. But it was the camaraderie that really hooked him.
“There’s definitely a social aspect,” he says. “And I was looking for a social group of like-minded people who enjoy nature and are outdoor enthusiasts like me. I found it with the Wilmington Trail Club.”
The club has continued to grow, largely through word of mouth, but some people followed a different path to membership. That includes a relatively new member, Frank Leone, who was introduced to the club through a continuing education program at the University of Delaware. One of the classes offered was a hiking class, one thing led to another, and now the 57-year-old is a devoted member of the Wilmington Trail Club.
“To me, it’s the best of both worlds,” Leone says. “We have a Thursday group that we call the lunch bunch. We spend three-four hours hiking — sometimes in parks where you would not normally go on your own or may not even know exist — then you go out for lunch afterward and socialize.
“It’s a lot of fun, and I’ve lost 18 pounds since January,” Leone adds with a laugh. “And it was effortless. I didn’t start this with that as a main goal, to lose weight, and I wasn’t counting calories. It just happened as a by-product of doing something I love to do. And that’s why I call it the best of both worlds.”
— For more information on the Wilmington Trail Club, including how to join and scheduled activities, visit WilmingtonTrailClub.org.