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OUTDOOR HEROES

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Elizabeth MacGregor Bates - Wonalancet Out Door Club, Sandwich, NH

Retirement was just the beginning for this dedicated "Over the Hill" hiker and conservationist

There are many theories on how to lead a long, productive life, but Elizabeth MacGregor Bates, age 92, has found her formula: hiking and making the outdoors accessible to all. For the past 30 years, as a member of the Wonalancet Out Door Club, she and her fellow "Over the Hill Hikers" have been leading conservation efforts to protect hundreds of acres near New Hampshire's White Mountains and construct miles of trails for public recreation. "There is nothing she'd rather do than be outdoors," says her daughter Connie Crooker.

In 1981, "Lib" and her husband had settled into retirement in Sandwich, New Hampshire. Lib grew up hiking in the area, and her father "Red Mac" MacGregor was one of the first hut masters on the Appalachian Trail. When she overheard a group of local women talking about hiking, she naturally asked if she could join. Lib suggested to the group that they begin climbing 4,000 footers, working off an Appalachian Mountain Club list.

To many, hiking 4,000-foot peaks may not be their idea of retirement, but Lib encouraged her new friends to think big…and high. Her encouragement, leadership and talent for organizing groups became apparent. Since then, Lib and over 100 retirees in her area have gone climbing every Tuesday and refer to themselves as the "Over the Hill Hikers," members of The Wonalancet Out Door Club. The members affectionately call Lib their den mother.

Her idea of sharing the outdoors with others also led Lib to help conserve 2,000 acres of land along lakes, ponds and farms in her area. When the state gave the Town of Sandwich money for conservation efforts in the late 1980s, Lib proposed the development of a hiking trail through town. Fred Lavigne, a member of the Wonalancet Out Door Club, recalls, "Lib would go out with a chain saw, a gift from her husband Charlie, and just cut her way through the woods, walking until she found great spots for the trail to pass through. It takes someone like Lib to keep projects like this going."

Volunteers also built the Bearcamp River Trail, a project spearheaded by Lib, over the course of six years. It runs 18 miles long. "I still keep an eye on the trail today and make sure we maintain it," says Lib. Lib's husband Charlie passed away in 1994 and Lib and her fellow hikers constructed a footbridge named "Charlie's Bridge" in his memory. Last summer Charlie's Bridge became unsafe for people to use. She hopes her next effort will be to rally her hiking cohorts and replace the 17-year-old structure.

Though Lib can no longer hike "the big ones," she continues to spend most of her time outdoors, especially perched on the hill in her backyard that her family calls Mount Lib. Even when she isn't on hikes, Lib continues to meet up with her fellow hikers every week. "This group absolutely made my retirement," she says.

Reflecting on her experience with the Wonalancet Out Door Club, Lib is proud that her hiking group took each member to places and accomplishments that none could have experienced on their own. She hopes that her story will encourage others to do "impossible things," whether it involves hiking or other pursuits.

For more information on The Wonalancet Out Door Club, visit wodc.org.