LaFevres pen new edition of their book about park hikes, adventures

Happy trails to you
Jun. 07, 2013 @ 11:45 PM

Some people won’t hike unless there’s a spectacular destination — a waterfall, say. John LaFevre encourages them to look around.

He and his wife, Kat LaFevre, have just come out with a new edition of their book “Scavenger Hike Adventures and Mountain Journal.” The book makes a game of hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Readers get points for spotting landmarks along paths like the Grapeyard Ridge and Alum Cave trails. Then they total their scores to find out whether they are City Slickers, Pioneer Scouts or Frontier Explorers.

“You’re learning without learning, so to speak,” John said. “It’s a fun family adventure.”

Published by Great Smoky Mountains Association, “Scavenger Hike Adventures” costs $15 and features playful illustrations by Lisa Horstman. It’s a sturdy, wire-bound book that should travel well along the park’s beautiful trails.

The LaFevres will sign copies at the national park’s Sugarlands Visitor Center on Saturday, June 8, and Saturday, June 15 (9:30-11:30 a.m.), and at the Oconoluftee Visitor Center on Saturday, June 22 (noon-3 p.m.).

Some of the items in the book are natural formations, like one described in the chapter on the Noah “Bud” Ogle Trail, near Gatlinburg: “Find a humongous boulder that is bigger than your car or truck and looks something like a spotted fish with a mohawk haircut.”

Other scavenger items include plants and animals. Still others relate to the people who lived and worked in the Smokies decades ago, like the remains of a Model T car that sit near the Porters Creek Trail.

“Instead of just walking to a destination, you’re discovering things you never would have known were there,” LaFevre said. “All along the way, the book is giving you mini destinations. It brings the trail to life.”

The book is intended for people of all ages, for families and experienced hikers alike. Included are easy paths, like the paved Laurel Falls Trail. Other trails are moderate, and one, the path to the bluffs atop Mount LeConte, is described as “extremely extreme.” Noted LaFevre, “We say, even your high school gym teacher would have trouble with this.”

In writing the book, the LaFevres, who live in Gatlinburg, worked closely with park staffers. “We went to the most experienced rangers in the national park and asked, ‘If you were only going to hike three trails, what would they be?’,” LaFevre said. Then the couple hiked and re-hiked, and did research. “When we talk (in the book) about a particular plant or cabin or whoever lived there, it was quadruple checked with the national park.”

Park officials initially were squeamish about the concept of a scavenger hike. “They thought you were picking up stuff,” LaFevre said. “But we couldn’t think of anything else to call it.” Again and again, the book warns readers to protect the park: “Take only pictures – leave only footprints.”

“Scavenger Hike Adventures” has come out in several editions, including the one the LaFevres first published themselves in the early 2000s. The new version includes trails on the North Carolina side of the park.

The couple has produced similar books for the Rocky Mountain and Shenandoah national parks. One on Yosemite is in the works, and more are planned for other national parks.

The series grew out of activities the LaFevres planned for family vacations. “We always created adventures for the kids and tried to make it fun,” John said. “We would go to Florida, and all week we’d have a shell contest. Then we’d find a total stranger to judge the shell collections.”

The couple also drew on their experience as teachers. After his stint as a teacher, LaFevre worked for Alcoa, for 25 years. He was in human resources, which, he said, “is like teaching without bells.”

The LaFevres moved to Sevier County in 2000. For a time, John contributed a humorous column called “Trail Mix” to The Mountain Press.

John gave Alcoa his notice after the company asked him to relocate to Pittsburgh. “We didn’t want to leave this area,” he said. “We started thinking about what else we could do, and that’s what got us into the book thing.”

“Scavenger Hike Adventures” is about helping families hike, John said. “Hiking is such wonderful, incredible exercise. It’s walking and getting together with family. That’s the passion that has driven us – getting people to take time to be with their families, and see some incredible things along the way.”