Hiking Club returns to Bearden after two-year break during pandemic


Tim Vacek

The Bearden Hiking Club takes a break at Indian Flats Falls on their September hike in the Tremont area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

After a two-year hiatus, the Bearden Hiking Club is back.

For those who love being outside, seeing the beautiful scenery and wildlife, and enjoying time in nature with your friends, this is an exciting change in the variety of clubs at Bearden. Faculty sponsor Mr. Tim Vacek has started the club back up after he paused club operations during the peak of the pandemic.

The club, for juniors and seniors only, usually hikes twice per semester leading up to an overnight backpacking trip in the spring. These hikes are preceded with a meeting before each hike to go over things everyone should have for the hike. 

“Meetings are always a few weeks before the next hike,” junior Kara Hughes said. “We go over supplies you will need and go over the hike and how to get there; hikes are about one every month.” 

Added senior Jonah Sinor: “Vacek sends messages through Remind to make sure everyone knows if they miss a meeting.”

Mr. Vacek has already led the first hike of the semester. He surveys club members on how long of a hike they’d like to go on and what kind of scenery they want to see. 

“Overall, Vacek chooses because he has to get them approved,” Hughes said. 

September’s hike was a 7-mile trip on the Middle Prong Trail in the Tremont section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and took about three and a half hours. Mr. Vacek regularly makes the first hike shorter and progresses to about 10 miles before the backpacking trip. 

“Being all new members and it being the first hike, I always make it shorter so that everyone can get acclimated to hiking,” Mr. Vacek said. “For some students, it’s their first time or they’re not very experienced, and that’s one of the things I love about sponsoring the club – that I can hopefully help to open that door for students who have never been hiking before and are maybe curious about it, so I try to make that first hike a little easier.” 

After the first hike, Mr. Vacek surveys the club on whether or not they would rather prioritize great views or waterfalls and creeks. Then he selects the next hike based on their preferences.

On a hiking day, students meet at Bearden in front of the West Mall early in the morning. Sometimes they get dinner together on the way back, depending on the length of the hike.

The overall consensus of why people enjoy this club is the community and one thing they all have in common: their love of nature. 

“My favorite thing about the club is just being in nature with friends and just joking around and seeing pretty scenery,” Hughes said. 

Added Sinor: “Being in the club and getting to just see the views and go on hikes I wouldn’t have is the part I love the most.” 

Mr. Vacek finds that the most rewarding part of sponsoring the hiking club is introducing students to hiking and watching them discover a hidden passion. 

“I know that there are a number of students who just haven’t had the opportunity to really get out and explore the amazing natural possibilities that we have in our area,” he said. “That’s rewarding as a teacher.”