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Hikers remember 'Smoky Mountain Jedi' with memorial hike

One year after Mike Maples' death, hikers honored the legacy of the "Smoky Mountain Jedi" with a hike and memorial service.

SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. — In the Great Smoky Mountains, hikers continue to remember the life and lasting impact of local legend Mike Maples, or the "Smoky Mountain Jedi," one year after his death.

Putting one foot in front of the other is difficult in the face of loss, but for the hikers in the group "Smoky Mountain Hiker Trash," the mountains are healing. 

Denise Cameron believes the trails in the Smokies are what connect the group to their friend and local legend Mike Maples.

"He meant a lot to me," Cameron said. "He was a very special person. He was loved by everybody and everybody loved him."

It's tough to find a hiker in the GSMNP not impacted by the life of Mike Maples in some way. Whether they knew him in person or followed along with him online, Maples covered a lot of ground.

"As soon as you met him, he felt like he was your best friend and you had known him forever," David Hancock, a hiker and Maples' doctor said.

Maples is known as the Smoky Mountain Jedi because just he seemed to know everything there was to know about the park.

"It was unreal really, what was tucked in that brain," Cameron nodded.

RELATED: Hiking community mourns 'Smoky Mountain Jedi'

In late 2018, Mike was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. He died just a few months later early in 2019.

Now, a year later, the hiker group is working to make sure Mike's memory stays alive through memorial hikes. Each hiker continues to pass on what Mike taught them.

On Sunday, over two dozen people hiked to a spot Mike discovered after the 2016 Gatlinburg wildfires. It's fittingly named Jedi Point.

There, Hancock hosted a memorial service, honoring the man Maples was and shining a light on the legacy he left behind.

The service ended with Hancock singing "Go Rest High on that Mountain."

"This group of people are just folks that love Mike and I hope we continue to keep this going and remember him and let other people know who he was and what he meant to these mountains," Hancock smiled.

Keeping the Jedi's memory alive can be a hard path to travel, but it's the steps on the trail that make it worthwhile.

RELATED: Hidden Gems of the Smokies: Exploring Cosby with the 'Hiking Jedi'

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