November 24, 2014

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Elyrian raising funds to film a documentary about a woman who didn’t quit

ELYRIA — When Grandma Emma Gatewood walked the entire 2,050 miles of the Appalachian Trail in 1955, she became the first woman to do so by herself.

Emma Rowena Gatewood, better known as Grandma Gatewood, was the first woman to hike the Appalachian Trail. She did it in 1955 at the age of 67. , wearing Keds sneakers and carrying an army blanket, a raincoat and a plastic shower curtain which she carried in a homemade bag slung over one shoulder.

Emma Rowena Gatewood, better known as Grandma Gatewood, was the first woman to hike the Appalachian Trail. She did it in 1955 at the age of 67.

She was 67 when she undertook the journey from Maine to Georgia.

Elyrian Bette Lou Higgins, who has told Gatewood’s impressive tale to many area audiences, looks to have lots of help in putting together a series of theatrically themed fundraising events through her Eden Valley Enterprises to generate money to make a $30,000 documentary about Gatewood for a Toledo PBS-TV station.

The project was initially budgeted around $90,000, but because of scheduling conflicts on the part of FilmAffects, a Put-In-Bay production company slated to make the documentary, the budget and scope of the project were scaled back when it was learned that shooting would have to begin on the Gatewood piece by the end of 2013.

“Unless something really makes it worth their while to re-arrange their schedules, or something happens to get us a lot of money in one fell swoop, it doesn’t appear likely (making a $90,000 film),” Higgins said.

Funds raised locally will be matched by an Ohio History Fund Grant.

Work on the documentary is expected to extend well into 2014 and videographer Peter Houston wants to include location shooting in Gallia County in southern Ohio where Gatewood was from, and along the Grandma Gatewood Trail in Hocking Hills State Park in nearby Athens County.

“At the very least he plans to get footage in those areas,” Higgins said. “The Gatewood Trail was her favorite place.”

Gatewood is credited with helping to create the 1,400-mile-plus Buckeye Trail.

A determined woman at 5-foot-2 and 120 pounds, Gatewood didn’t back away from daunting challenges.

She had attempted to hike the Appalachian Trail in 1954 but stopped before getting very far after breaking her glasses, getting lost and being rescued by national park rangers.

She tried again in 1955, traversing the trail from May to September without a tent or backpack — taking only what fit in a knapsack and relying on strangers living near the trail for food.

Gatewood’s inspiration for the feat came from a National Geographic magazine story about the famed trail that noted it had never been conquered by a lone woman.

Gatewood hiked the Appalachian Trail twice more before her death in 1973.

While Higgins has undertaken a number of first-person portrayals of notable people, Gatewood will be played by area actress Anne McEvoy for two performances of the TrueNorth Cultural Arts show “Trail Magic” Aug. 24 at French Creek Nature Center.

Plans also call for McEvoy to portray Gatewood in the documentary.

The show is written by Lorain writer Kelly Boyer Sagert, author of the sports biography “Baseball’s All-Time Greatest Hitters: Joe Jackson.”

Eden Valley Enterprises and Women Making Moves, a Cleveland-based networking business group, will partner for a series of programs in March 2014 at Lorain County Community College and the three campuses of Cuyahoga County Community College featuring McEvoy, Cathy Dice and Betty Zak, who will depict or discuss famous or infamous women in history, according to Higgins.

At a fundraiser set for June 2014 at Cleveland’s Baseball Heritage Museum, Higgins will present the story of Alta Weiss.

“She was a woman whose career began in Vermilion and who put herself through medical school by playing professional baseball on a 1907 men’s team,” Higgins said.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.