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Hiking Pennsylvania; Jeffrey Mitchell ’96

Pennsylvania’s forests cover 17 million acres, almost 60 percent of the total land area, much of it privately owned.

Attorney, author and avid hiker Jeffrey Mitchell ’96 knows this well.

Mitchell is an attorney, with a private practice in Tunkhannock, Pa., where he does primarily criminal, municipal, and family law, and is the chief public defender of Sullivan County. But, he is also the author of Hiking the Endless Mountains, Backpacking Pennsylvania and Hiking the Allegheny National Forest, books written out of a passion for hiking that he developed after he graduated from Albright.

A Pennsylvania native, Mitchell was raised in Tunkhannock, just north of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area, and almost in the heart of Pennsylvania’s wilderness. He didn’t grow up hiking, but once he started he found himself drawn to it. Pennsylvania’s Ricketts Glen State Park was the site of his first hiking experience.“…I was amazed a place that beautiful was so close to home. I was so impressed by all the waterfalls.”

He decided to explore more--Worlds End State Park, Pine Creek Gorge (Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania) and the Poconos were next. “I was surprised by how beautiful, and overlooked, Pennsylvania is. Since then, I’ve hiked in just about every state from Florida to New Hampshire.” Mitchell enjoys it because “it’s so simple. You don’t need any special skills or abilities; there are so many trails close to home; and it’s a great way to stay in shape. I think the best way to appreciate and experience the world’s beauty is to simply hike through it.”

Why Pennsylvania? “First, this is where I live and grew up,” he says. “But Pennsylvania also has over 100 state parks and about 4-5 million acres of public land, plus the most expansive system of backpacking trails in the Eastern U.S. Some of the most scenic trails in the east are in this state with beautiful views, canyons, gorges, rock formations and waterfalls.”

What makes an attorney decide to write a book about hiking? Mitchell’s answer is simple: “Hiking and backpacking are things I enjoy doing so I thought I’d try to write about my interests. I also wanted to write about places that had been overlooked by other guides. People are often surprised by how much beauty is out there.”

Hiking also fits into the busiest lifestyle, he says. “Hiking isn’t time consuming. There are many trails in local or state parks that are close to most communities. There are no time limits with hiking. You can hike for as long or as short of a time as you want. If getting outside means you have to spend less time in front of a television, on the couch, or in the mall, I think that’s a great compromise.” He even recommends some family-friendly hiking: “Most state parks have easy trails that are ideal for children and families. Near Albright, there are several easy trails at Blue Marsh [lake], Nolde Forest or French Creek State Parks.”

Mitchell has even managed to get a few other Albright alumni into the hiking scene. Bob Holliday ’98, Bryan Mulvihill ’99, Ian Strever ’96, Matt Larusso ’94, Jeff Sensenig ’99, Ed Shrimp ’99 and Wayne Gehris ’98 hike with him often.

While Mitchell says he probably won’t write any new hiking books, he admits that his passion for Pennsylvania’s outdoors will likely result in future editions of the three current books. A Pennsylvania paddling guide for flat water rivers and streams, as well as lakes and ponds, is in the works. What’s next for Mitchell? “I’ve also gotten into whitewater kayaking,” he says. “And I hope to visit New Zealand in a couple years.”

– Julio Bermudez ’08

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