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By CINDY SIMPSON
Breathtaking views, the serenity of wind-rustled leaves and the feeling of accomplishment from a task well done made a physically demanding challenge a constant pleasure for one Kingston man.
Earlier this year, Cliff Nunley completed his goal of hiking all of the open trails of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Nunley hikes for the joy of being outside. He at first didn’t worry about hiking the entire park.
A funny thing began to happen, however, as he began to mark trails he had hiked on a map he has of the park’s trails.
“It got to be a fever — a disease, we called it in the hiking group,” he said.
He was only halfway working at it when he decided to make it a real goal two or three years ago.
Nunley completed many of the trails while hiking with friends in a Thursday Hiking Club that meets weekly to hike area trails, many of which are in the park.
Nunley said there are almost 800 miles of open trails in the Smokies. He hiked more than that, though, because he had to hike sections of some trails to get to others.
It probably takes more like 1,400 to 1,500 miles to complete all the trails.
“One of the last two mile sections I did, I had to hike 15 miles to get to it,” Nunley said.
Hiking is such a passion for Nunley that he has clocked many more miles than it took to hike the entire park. He and Sue, his wife of 54 years, have been hiking regularly since 1993.
“I estimate I probably hiked 6 to 7,000 miles,” Nunley said.
It was a family event when he hiked the last stretch of trail he needed to reach his goal.
It was the Oconaluftee River Trail on July 5 that completed the stretch of trails.
Nunley has let his joy of the outdoors and hiking take him all over.
“Cliff and I have hiked in New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii,” Sue Nunley said.
Unfortunately, Sue Nunley doesn’t hike much anymore since having knee surgery in 2004.
The Nunleys started out walking, but they had a pop up camper they took to the park to enjoy with the family.
Nunley said for many people, the only thing to do next is to start the process over.
“It is sort of a letdown when you get it done,” he said.
He doesn’t necessarily plan to start over, but hiking is something he continues to do.
“With the group, we probably average about 10 miles per week, somewhere in that range,” he said.
“I’m just going to keep hiking and enjoying it as long as I can,” Nunley added.
“I just love the people I hike with. They are all super folks.”
He adds that the sense of accomplishment is part of the joy of hiking.
In this day and age not many things are individual accomplishments, he said.