2018-08-30 / Life in Leelanau

Walking Man, Faith-Full Man

Empire man shares life stories on county trails
By Jen Murphy
of the Enterprise staff

FINALLY AT the Port Oneida trailhead, Jerry Pearson, left, and Ed Gergosian, right, take a break to celebrate the 16.4 mies hiked Saturday. This was the end-goal for Gergosian, but Pearson continued to the end of the trail at Bohemian Beach.FINALLY AT the Port Oneida trailhead, Jerry Pearson, left, and Ed Gergosian, right, take a break to celebrate the 16.4 mies hiked Saturday. This was the end-goal for Gergosian, but Pearson continued to the end of the trail at Bohemian Beach.
He’s a community activist of a different sort.

In fact, Empire resident Jerry Pearson shies away from making political statements if he can help it. His focus is simply on growing a sense of community, which he does by being with nature.

“A lot of what I do is outside,” Pearson said. “I tend to be out and about quite a bit. I get my best ideas when I’m outside.”

He participates in the M-22 Challenge every year. He bikes, paddleboards, and he hikes. A lot.

Pearson’s latest effort at community-building was an almost marathon-long walk on Saturday: he hiked the Heritage Trail from end-to-end — a total of 49,026 steps.


HERITAGE TRAIL hikers Jerry Pearson, left, and Ed Gergosian, right, are still smiling Saturday as they cross the 16 mile mark near the Port Oneida trailhead. HERITAGE TRAIL hikers Jerry Pearson, left, and Ed Gergosian, right, are still smiling Saturday as they cross the 16 mile mark near the Port Oneida trailhead. “The idea was inspired by a book I’m reading — ‘Lost on the Appalachian Trail’ — and it dawned on me, we have our own trail,” Pearson said. “I thought, ‘Why couldn’t I through-hike that instead of taking six months on the Appalachian Trail?’”

Unlike the author of the Appalachian Trail book, who stepped off with no human companions, Pearson encouraged people to join him. He invited anyone who wanted to hike part or all of the more than 20-mile trail to join him from trailhead at Empire to Bohemian Beach. He called the effort “Hike the Heritage.”

And some did. Pearson said some hikers joined him bright and early for the first stretch between Empire and Glen Arbor and another popped in to join the group for lunch at Cherry Republic. Just one made almost the entire hike with him: Glen Arbor resident Ed Gergosian.

Gergosian said he has taken up a more healthy lifestyle and enjoys joining Pearson on his hikes, including this one.

“For me, this is therapeutic,” Gergosian said. “I started waking a lot last year. To do something like this is a good thing. I’m happy I can do it.”

In all, Gergosian completed 16.4 miles Saturday from Empire to the Port Oneida trailhead. “It’s farther than I have walked before,” he said.

And he’d like to hike the Trail again next year.

Importance of community

“I think we live in a beautiful area. We are very blessed,” Pearson said. “I dislike boredom. I like doing things. I like being engaged. And I want to allow other people to participate in these activities. I go out of my way to let other people know about it.”

So on Sundays he leads a hike at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Pearson invites anyone who wants to hike to join him on “Explore Sleeping Bear” hikes Sundays at 1 p.m..

“We have a very fortunate opportunity to craft a sense of community — we have an opportunity in Leelanau County to really get to know each other and support each other,” he said. “I think there’s a common bond with the area we are in and I’m fiercely loyal to our community. We have an opportunity to be community-minded where a lot of others don’t.”

Pearson believes respecting differences of opinion as a critical piece of a truly community-minded approach.

“Allowing people to have differing opinions, that’s one of the great things about America. We can have different opinions.”

While he hikes with others, he takes the opportunity to get to know them. Conversations are open and Pearson will talk about just about anything.

Weather isn’t an issue — rain, snow or sunshine, you can find Pearson outside. “We have a men’s group that meets every Saturday morning. We hike. And some of my most memorable times have been during blizzards in the winter,” Pearson said.

“To me, those traditions instill a sense of community. Maybe they don’t make it to every one of them, but they have the opportunity,” he added.

Why does he focus on connecting with others?

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Why not try to get to know each other?”

Importance of faith

“A lot of the things I do is borne out of my faith,” Pearson said. ”My faith is first, but it allows me to enjoy the beauty that has been created in our area.”

Pearson serves as an elder at the Glen Lake Community Reformed Church. His outreach, no surprise, focuses on being outdoors.

For the past 30 years, he has conducted the Easter Sunrise Service at Inspiration Point. And for the past five years, he has led a weekly Outdoor Worship Service on Sundays at Old Settlers Park.

Each day, Pearson said he asks himself three questions:

 Am I being joyful?

 Am I being gracious?

 Am I being thankful?

“Those three things I try to do every day,” he said.

He even has a reminder on his phone. “Those are things I try to embody, even when I’m running low on patience.”

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