Bart Smith walks the Nez Perce Historical Trail

Bart Smith walks the Nez Perce Historical Trail near the intersection of Lipp Road and Buffalo Trail Road on Saturday afternoon. Smith started walking the trail, beginning at Wallowa Lake, Ore., on June 4 and hopes to finish on Oct. 1 near the site of the Battle of Bear Paw.

JAMES WOODCOCK/Gazette Staff

By 2018, there's a good chance that Bart Smith will have logged more than 40,000 miles along some of America's most historic and scenic routes.

If it was in a Toyota Corolla, that'd be no big deal. But Smith will have done all of it on foot.

Since 1992, the 52-year-old self-taught professional photographer from Lakewood, Wash., has walked the more than 18,000 miles of the 11 National Scenic Trails, such as the Pacific Crest Trail, and is now working on the 33,000 miles of the 19 National Historic Trails, taking pictures along the way.

"It's kind of morphed into this walking-photography niche," he said. "Photography is the reason I'm doing this. Photography gives me a sense of purpose."

The 1,100-mile Nez Perce Trail stretches from Wallowa Lake, Ore., to Bear Paw Battlefield near Chinook and traces the famous flight of the Nez Perce Indians from the U.S. Army in 1877. It is the first he decided to tackle.

Smith is on the final 200 miles of the trek, which stretches from Laurel to Chinook.

"It's amazing how little some of the landscape has changed since the Nez Perce went through," he said. "Near Horse Prairie (near Dillon) you go by the same ranches that the Nez Perce attacked. Take away the fences, roads and telephone lines, and the land is remarkably the same."

On Saturday, he left from Laurel on his way to the Broadview area. During a stop at the site of the Battle of Canyon Creek north of Laurel, Smith talked about his long journeys and where he hopes to end up.

As a photographer, he has published five coffee table books of photos from his walks on the scenic trails since 1992, as well as had work featured on the covers of the Smithsonian and now-defunct National Geographic Adventurer magazines.

When all is said and done, he'd like to finish all of the trails by 2018, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the National Trails Act. He then hopes to put together another book of photos from all of the trails.

"It's such a fantastic experience," he said.

Smith hopes to get sponsorship for the book.

But all of that walking takes lots of planning and support. Smith said he wouldn't be able to do it without a full endorsement from his wife, Bridgie Graham-Smith, who holds the fort down back home.

Recently, he stopped carrying a backpack and started using a rugged, three-wheeled baby stroller to haul gear, which includes 20 pounds of camera equipment, camping gear, lots of water, clothing and other items.

He usually camps while traveling, but does stay in a motel once a week or so.

A man pushing a stroller down the road in the middle of nowhere tends to get attention from passersby, and Smith said people are usually impressed and sometimes concerned.

"There's this conception in peoples' minds that I would've been beat up and robbed but I haven't had one bad experience so far," he said. "I just hope that people wouldn't do something based on the assumption they wouldn't be helped out by their fellow man."

He plans to arrive in the Chinook area on Oct. 1 for the 134th anniversary of the Battle of Pear Paw. The next walk starts Oct. 6 with the Trail of Tears, which runs from Tennessee and Georgia to Oklahoma.

 

 

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