FORT SILL, Okla. (March 15, 2018) -- Army families through various duty assignments who have enjoyed exploring the Alps and the Rocky Mountains are in luck at Fort Sill. The local area features the Wichita Mountains and Arbuckle Range.

OK, they're not as high, but they are older, said a post official. And, Fort Sill Family Morale, Welfare, and Recreation offers free guided nature hikes to explore the terrain.

Every other Saturday, hikers meet at the Lake Elmer Thomas Recreation Area (LETRA) Country Store at 9 a.m. for a hike of local trails. On March 10, 28 hikers hit the trail to Pratt Hill.

"I loved it: the view, the fresh air, hanging out with some of my fellow Soldiers," said hiker Mary Hall, who wore a mobile video camera.

Hall, who is a private in D Battery, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Air Defense Artillery, added that she likes sharing her hiking videos with her friends.

Tenille Russell, LETRA program manager, and Jack Rucker, LETRA recreation aide lead the fun, relaxing hikes.

"Fort Sill is absolutely beautiful," Russell said. "A lot of people don't know that you can hike here, so we're just showing people the opportunities."

Hikes usually go two to four miles (out and back), and run under two hours, Rucker said. The hikes are open to the public, are for hikers age 8 and over, and are family friendly including leashed dogs, he said. Some parents have hiked with their infant children in baby carriers. The hikes typically draw between 20-40 people.

The next hiking dates are: March 24, April 7, April 21, May 5, and May 19, and so on.

Bring water; snacks, especially if you're bringing children; thick-soled shoes: either hiking boots or heavy sneakers; insect repellant, sunblock, and dress appropriately for the weather.

Retiree Jay Furtig, of Lawton, his wife and their two grandchildren were part of the trekkers Saturday.
"We like to take our grandchildren out for a sense of adventure on post, and at the (Wichita Mountains Wildlife) Refuge," he said. "So they're climbing, and not whining."

The hiking trails were originally extensive maintenance trails established long ago to access training areas, said Rucker. "We haven't even found them all," he said. "And because they weren't used for so long, there was no reason to mark them."

Since she took over as LETRA manager about one year ago, Russell and Rucker have been clearing and marking the LETRA trail system. The plan is to identify more hiking trails; and clearly mark trailheads, and the boundaries where LETRA ends and training ranges begin.

Every hike begins with a safety brief by Russell, emphasizing not to touch anything that even remotely looks like unexploded ordnance (UXO). Russell is a certified wilderness paramedic, who carries a first aid kit. Rucker is a trained first-responder.

Russell leads the group while Rucker brings up the rear. Head counts are done at every rest break to ensure no one is missing.

Along the route, the guides point out the scenic interests, as well as other wilderness tidbits.
Russell explained how prickly pear cactus with its fruit and paddles are edible after dethorning.

"You can scrape the hard flesh off the paddle and dehydrate it and you can eat it like beef jerky," she explained. "It's like a vegan jerky, and it's really good."

It's not unusual to see wildlife on a hike such as, elk, deer, coyotes, bobcat, and quail, Russell said.

Local retire Joe Moore has been joining the hikes sharing his knowledge of the wilderness. He spoke about the rocks on the LETRA trail, and about venomous snakes.

Don't let the fear of a snake encounter ruin your hike, Moore said. Even venomous snakes are usually docile toward humans because they know they can't eat them.

If you see a snake, just freeze because snakes react to movement, and let the snake go on its way, he said.

And, nine times out of 10 a snake bite is a dry bite where as no venom is injected into the person, Rucker said.

If you do get bit, just mark the spot with a felt-tip marker and go to the ER pronto. That's what the American Medical Association advises, Moore said.

Kentucky National Guard Soldier Warrant Officer 1 Darin Barbee just started the Field Artillery Warrant Office Basic Course here, and will be here for seven months. This was his first time at Fort Sill. (He performed his enlisted fire direction control training in Smyrna, Tenn.)

"I just wanted to see what was out here, and to get the benefits of exercise," Barbee said. "I try to get in 6,000 steps everyday, so this helps."

Russell invites everyone to join the hikes.

"Hiking can be very enjoyable, not only physically, but mentally. You soak in vitamin D, take in the fresh air, it can help with depression," she said.

LETRA and its trails are open 24/7. For more information, visit LETRA on Facebook, or call the LETRA office at 580-442-5858.