Pinhoti trail

Pinhoti Trail as seen in the Talladega National Forest last week. Photo by Bill Wilson / The Anniston Star

Starting this Saturday, Mike Whittaker and two of his outdoors buddies will hike the Pinhoti Trail in its entirety to raise money for tornado victims of Lee County.

The trio hope to raise $10,000 by walking the 335-mile-long footpath which crosses 170 miles of Alabama before continuing into Georgia. It is the longest footpath in the state.

Whittaker, 60, got the charitable idea to hike the trail from talking to fellow hiker Alan Morrow, who has a friend who raised money by biking across the U.S. to benefit charities.

“It’s a pretty good feeling. When we first started thinking about the hike it was just an idea and when it came up with the idea of raising money it elevated our excitement about going,” Whittaker said.

He said the other hiker going with them, Ken Burlingham, knows firsthand the devastation that residents faced after the tornado — he spent a day helping cut trees in the affected area at a home, according to Whittaker.

Whitaker is asking for people in the area to sponsor them either by the mile or by making a one-time donation. He said it will take the trio, who all live in the southeastern Alabama town of Ozark, about 25 days to complete their journey. They plan to start in Blue Ridge, Ga., and hike south to the end at Flagg Mountain, near the Coosa County community of Weogufka.

Whittaker said the group will camp out every night along the trail but will visit towns and cities along the route including Dalton, Ga., and Heflin to restock their supplies.

Whittaker said the city of Heflin has been very supportive of the fundraiser.

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers of Saks has pledged $1 for each mile hiked on the Alabama portion of the Pinhoti. On Wednesday, Rogers released a statement in support of the hikers’ efforts.

“As we’ve seen firsthand at JSU and Jacksonville, the rebuilding process after devastating tornadoes takes time. It has been amazing to watch our state and country come together to take care of the folks in Lee County.  I am proud to be a part of the rebuilding by supporting this effort. Just as the Jacksonville area has done, Lee County will come out of this stronger than ever.”

Heflin City Clerk Shane Smith said that more than $600 has been raised to support the hikers’ efforts.

“I think this is a great way to help those affected by the tornadoes and we are happy to help them out on this effort,” Smith said.

Whittaker’s social media page will document the journey as it happens and he has invited any other hikers to join them if they can.

Whittaker said he hopes to inspire other hikers on his journey.

“We’re also inviting other hikers that see us out or want to meet up with us and hike with us, they are certainly welcomed,” Whittaker said.

Donations can be made by mail to Heflin Main Street, Attn: Shane Smith, City Clerk, P.O. Box 128, Heflin, AL 36264 or to the Community Foundation of East Alabama, P.O. Box 165, Opelika, AL 36803.

​Staff writer Bill Wilson: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @bwilson_star.