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    On Acadia trails or city sidewalk

    Martha and Robert Manning  have walked dozens of long trails.
    Martha and Robert Manning have walked dozens of long trails.

    Robert Manning, a professor of natural resources and director of the Park Studies Laboratory at the University of Vermont, and his wife, Martha, have been living in Vermont for more than 35 years. About 12 years ago, they decided to walk the entire Long Trail — not in one swoop, but here and there. Since then, the Mannings have walked more than 35 long-distance trails around the world, detailed in their book “Walking Distance: Extraordinary Hikes for Ordinary People.” We talked with them about walking in New England.

    Q. We know walking is healthy. Anything else good about it?

    Robert: I think you get a sense of a place so much more authentically by walking. There’s an intimacy about it; you not only see the landscape, but you smell it, touch it, even taste it at times.


    Martha: The sense of history, thinking about the people who have come the same way, is particularly interesting to me. I can get all caught up in thoughts of what it would be like to be there — on the path — at an earlier time. I’m not a history buff, but this is something that’s been really revealing and pleasing.

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    Q. As a novice, how do you get started?

    Martha: Try to incorporate walking more in your everyday life, so that you become used to it, and keep gently pressing the borders of your comfort level. Another great way to start out is to join a guided group tour. The Appalachian Mountain Club ( has a lot of wonderful group hikes and will get you in touch with local hikers.

    Q. What are your favorite places to walk in New England?

    Robert: Shelburne Farms, just south of Burlington, Vt., is glorious. It offers about 20 miles of trails. And of course, the Long Trail is a sentimental favorite, because it’s where our long-distance walking began. It’s also significant that it’s the first long-distance trail in America. Camel’s Hump on the Long Trail is one of our favorites and should be on everyone’s list.


    Another favorite is Acadia National Park. There are about 120 miles of trails and some are very historic, developed by the local communities before there was even a park. There was this informal competition between the communities to see who could develop the best trails, so the area is just laced with highly-crafted trails. Many of the trails quickly get above treeline to bald summits where the views are wonderful.

    Q. Is there a trail in Acadia that stands out?

    Robert: The Gorham Mountain Trail. It starts at the ocean, rises in elevation, but not too steeply. After about a half a mile, it pops up out of the trees, and you get these spectacular views across pink, polished granite to Frenchman Bay. It’s quintessential Acadia.

    Q. Are there any other trails that should be at the top of our list?

    Robert: We’d have to put the White Mountains on the list, especially the Presidential Range. The walking can be a little more challenging but it’s very dramatic. And, the AMC system of huts is a nice way to do a multiday walk.


    Martha: Readers in Boston should not forget about the Freedom Trail. We had not done the entire Freedom Trail until about a year ago. We’re now looking at places that we’ve taken for granted with fresher eyes. What if we were coming from another country and had the opportunity to walk around Boston? It’s a great city to walk in — better to walk in than drive in.

    Robert: The whole urban walking thing — we’re not city people, but that’s an interesting idea. Let’s think about city sidewalks as a vast network of trails.

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    Interview was edited and condensed. Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at