This tribute to Tom Thwaites was read at his memorial service on April 4th on behalf of the
Mid State Trail Association, and all the volunteers, who have, over the years, made dream of
a trail become the longest and wildest footpath in Pennsylvania.
The Mid State Trail began as, and remains, a volunteer coordinated creation.
This was something that Tom was both extremely proud of and exceedingly worried
about. He told the Penn State Outing Club students that it was their perpetual gift
to others and that it made Pennsylvania a better place. He later would characterize
it as a community project. Yet, at the same time, as the kilometers increased so did
the anxiety, as he saw the growing and continuous need for volunteer support to keep
the trail open. The closer his dream came to realization, the more eager he was to
give it away to people he could entrust with pieces of it. This is what lead him to
first develop a network of section overseers and then to give maintainers
an organizational home in the founding of the Mid State Trail Association.
What, after all, could be a more difficult and elusive quest than wrangling a disparate
group of highly idiosyncratic individuals into some form of a stable, cohesive and
sustainable volunteer base? Possibly, only lassoing a unicorn.
As the chief advocate and main recruiter for the trail, Tom became a kind of Pied Piper.
But the music he really wanted people to listen to, to hear, and to be enchanted by,
was the song of the trail itself. He knew from his experience with the 50 Hikes Guides
that even with his description in hand, the hike you take is always your own. Although
he was a beacon for the trail and his passion for it was incandescent, he never wanted
to overshadow the volunteer efforts of others. He encouraged everyone to shine
by their own light, so that they would become personally invested in the future of the trail.
Nothing would animate his eyebrows with delight more, than when a maintainer would
claim that their section was the best part of the trail.
In the late 90's Tom told a reporter that he was a tad less concerned about the future of the
Mid State Trail. He said "Its just nice to let the trail get a life of its own, because I worry
about what will happen to it when I'm gone. Now I think it will survive because it is such
a special wild trail".
Today, as we see Tom off from this final trailhead we need to give him credit for yet
another accomplishment, for in the end he was able to charm the unicorn into
eating out of his hand.
In 1989 Jean Aron wrote the 'Mid State Trail Song', this is it's final verse:
With my boots and pack I'll wander through the huckleberries blue,
'Til I rest my soul on Big Flat with a bear to share the view.
Let me go to hikers heaven at the ending of my tale.
It will look like Pennsylvania, and I'll hike the Mid State Trail.