Twenty years ago, an advertisement appeared in The Durango Herald asking whether people around the area would be interested in forming a club that organized outdoor outings for seniors.
Twenty years later, La Plata County residents are still answering the call: The Seniors Outdoors! club – celebrating its 20th anniversary next week – now has more than 500 members, and the numbers continue to grow.
“It’s just such a wonderful group of people,” said Delores Manners. “And it gives people an opportunity to make friends quickly, and at the same time be in and enjoy the outdoors.”
Seniors Outdoors! started in the spring of 1998 when Charlie Speno, then director of the Durango Area Agency on Aging, was concerned that some seniors weren’t getting enough exercise.
Speno felt that an organized club may help encourage people older than 50 to get out more and, in turn, stay in shape at a critical stage in life. There being no such thing as Facebook in those days, Speno placed an ad in the Herald.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Senior Outdoors! held its first meeting April 14, 1998. Eight people showed up, Manners included. The group’s first hike followed a few weeks later into the Bisti Wilderness outside of Farmington.
These days, Manners, 84, said Seniors Outdoors! hosts up to four outdoor outings a week for people of all different exercise levels. Trips can draw anywhere from 10 to 40 people to hike, backpack, bicycle or snowshoe.
“It just grew every month,” Manners said.
John Martin, 71, joined the group in June 1998, two months after the club formed. He, too, saw the ad in the newspaper and said that he and his wife thought it would be a good way to make new friends and be outside.
“We didn’t have our own group, and my wife and I needed people to hike with,” Martin said. “We thought it was a good opportunity to join a senior hiking group.”
Martin soon became one of the trip leaders for Senior Outdoors! and started taking people on snowshoeing treks around the high county of the San Juan Mountains. He’s continued that role the past 20 years.
“I laugh because back then I would ask my teenagers to go snowshoeing and they’d ask ‘How long is it going to take?’ and ‘When are we going to get back?’ and I just said, ‘You know what, forget it.’
“But every senior here, they show up on time and are just eager and happy to be out no matter what. It’s just the most appreciative group, and that comes with age and experience. We just appreciate we’re still here and able to be active.”
Martin also said the group has helped him and many other members stay active and healthy, especially as they get older. The benefits of physical activity in later years are innumerable, including lowering the risk of falling and reducing the risk for stroke or heart attacks.
And, exercise simply helps people live longer and have a better quality of life. The World Health Organization says a sedentary lifestyle is one of 10 leading causes of death and disability, and even light exercise can extend life up to three to five years.
“This is the absolute healthiest thing we could be doing at our ages,” Martin said. “Being encouraged to get out and hike.”
Gail Davidson, co-president of Seniors Outdoors!, first encountered the group in the 1990s when she was hiking near Mineral Creek outside Silverton.
“I was huffing and puffing and this group came by me at 90 mph, all older than me, talking and laughing,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Who are those people?’ and I was told that’s the senior hiking group from Durango.”
Davidson, now 74, joined the group in 2002.
“It is a highlight of my physical life here,” she said. “It’s just so much fun and challenging and invigorating, and I just love it. It’s added to my life.”
Davidson suggested that anyone interest in joining Seniors Outdoors! attend the group’s monthly Tuesday meeting to become acquainted. Then, check out the schedule of events and find an activity that suits their physical ability.
“When you get as old as us, you want to be active,” she said. “People look at the name of the group and say ‘Oh god, I don’t want to be apart of senior group,’ but I’ll tell you: They will run you to the ground.”