It all started with an ad in Backpacker magazine.
Bob and Dee Leggett were avid hikers and backpackers–“the whole world was getting into backpacking at that time”–when they saw an ad in Backpacker Magazine about a meeting for the newly formed American Hiking Society, for folks interested in hiking.
There was a need for an organization to be the voice of hikers, so Bob and Dee decided to attend the meeting, and this started their 46 years of service to and support of the AHS mission. “AHS is the mortar, there are all these bricks out there. AHS is the catalyst bringing disparate interests together.” Bob recounts backpacking in the Eagle Cap Wilderness in Oregon, “it’s a gorgeous place! The glaciers carved rugged mountains with lots of alpine lakes. Back then, it was even more remote and had fewer people.” The Leggetts knew hikers like themselves needed to advocate for these special places and stand against interests that would diminish the beauty of these wild places.
Bob remembers in the fall of 1993–he was on the AHS board, and the organization was going through a difficult time. There was talk about ending the Volunteer Vacation program. Bob battled to keep it afloat because “It’s our boots on the ground program.” Since then, it has gone on to give 300-400 volunteers each year a chance to put a week’s worth of labor into trails across the country, from Alaska to the Virgin Islands.
More than a decade later, American Hiking expanded volunteer programming to provide college students the opportunity to make an impact during their spring breaks with an immersive outdoor volunteer trip to build and maintain trails. Bob and Dee believed in expanding volunteer opportunities to college-age folks and the Robert and Dee Leggett Foundation funded the Alternative Break program for the first two years because “it’s important to get the next generation involved. We have to get people connected to the land so they will value it.”
The Leggetts have always been involved with causes, both through their service and their foundation–the Robert and Dee Leggett Foundation. Bob was a scoutmaster for 38 years–“changing the future of America one boy at a time.” They are also co-founders of the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship, a 900 acre land preserve in Hillsboro, VA, which after 22 years is being developed into a state park. Hiking the loop trails of the Blue Ridge Center has remained a highlight for Dee over the years.
Looking at what Bob and Dee have been able to accomplish in their lifetimes, what is their advice for the next generation of leaders? “Vote! You’re electing a public representative and you have a right to tell them how they should respond to various issues. Get active, and put your money, time and energy where your mouth is. You don't always know what influence you are having–the people who started AHS didn't have a 50 year view. In fact, at the first AHS member meeting, the founders focused on the first five years because most organizations don’t survive those first years.”
With the dedication and support from the founders and charter members, AHS grew and expanded programs over the years to advocate for and steward the places we all love to hike. American Hiking Society was started by these individuals without a large bank account or endowment, but with the confidence that the programs were meaningful enough that they would be supported for generations to come by individuals like you. Let’s continue the legacy that was started by the dedicated group of individual founders in 1976. We need your support now more than ever to continue these important programs and expand opportunities for people like you who desire to experience, build, and conserve trails in every corner of America.