Don Harty, left, of Kennebunk, shown here with his late father, Thomas Harty, has made a commitment to hike 67 miles to mark his birthday and to honor his father, who was killed in his Massachusetts home in 2016. Courtesy photo

KENNEBUNK – Don Harty and his son Sam set out on a 17-mile hike on the Appalachian Trail this past weekend, part of a 67-mile trek the elder Harty plans to make in segments this summer to commemorate his 67th birthday.

That is not the only reason for the hike, which began in Hanover, New Hampshire, and will eventually end at Mount Katahdin.

Sam Harty and Don Harty at the Appalchian Trail head at Hanover, New Hampshire on Saturday, April 23. Courtesy photo

Don is walking in his father Thomas Harty’s  footsteps, in a couple of ways – he is carrying on a way of life he learned  from his father at an early age.  And he is wearing his dad’s slightly scuffed brown leather hiking boots. The size 11 boots fit just right.

The hike – and the boots – are ways to honor his father and to keep the memory alive of a man who, at 95, still worked as a tool salesman 40 hours a week and was planning to hike the Grand Canyon – a hike he had made many times, 41, by news accounts. But Thomas Harty did not make it there again. He was brutally murdered in his home in Orange, Massachusetts, in October 2016. Severely wounded, his wife Joanna Fisher died in hospital a month later. The two people convicted of first-degree murder in their deaths are each serving two life sentences.

In an interview a week ago, Don Harty was wearing his father’s boots and had been, for a while each day, making sure they were comfortable for a lengthy hike, and they were. The hike on the weekend went well, he said Monday.

Harty said everyone handles death and tragedy differently, and it is not easy to forge ahead at times, but he has – and cherishes the memories.


“The grief and anger, if you dwell on it, it consumes you, we try to look for the bright side,” he said.

A Kennebunk man, Don Harty, is wearing his late father’s hiking boots when he walks portions of the Appalachian Trail this year. Thomas Harty instilled a love of hiking in Don and other family members and many others. Tammy Wells Photo

Thomas Harty was a kind man, enthusiastic, and had a spirit of adventure. He was a World War II veteran. He had been the leader, for many years, of a hiking-inspired Boy Scout Troop. News accounts said he sponsored scholarships for children at a YMCA near his home and other endeavors designed to help disadvantaged children. And he loved to hike.

Don Harty is retired after 35 years selling industrial supplies. He had been a selectmen and member of the school board in Epsom, New Hampshire, where he and his wife Becky lived until 2021, when they moved to a quiet neighborhood in Kennebunk. They were familiar with the area, spending summer weekends in nearby Wells, and decided to relocate. When he is not hiking, Don volunteers on the trails at Hope Woods.

Don and his father hiked many miles together. It was a way of life. They had hiked all the 4,000-foot mountains in New England – there are 48 in New Hampshire, 16 in Maine and five in Vermont. There were other hikes. Don Harty first hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1982; his father completed it in segments over a few years, finishing when he was 75 years old. Then came the Grand Canyon, a hike completed by Thomas Harty and friends so many times. The annual event was, and still is – it continues today – called The Harty Party. There are reunions at the Grand Canyon and elsewhere – one such event drew 85 people.

Thomas Harty, shown here on a hike in a book called The Harty Party, was three weeks short of his 96th birthday when he was killed in his home by two strangers in 2016. His wife sustained severe injuries and died in hospital a month later. His son, Kennebunk resident Don Harty, is hiking this year in his father’s memory. Tammy Wells photo

After the 2018 sentencing of the man and woman who had slain Thomas Harty and Joanna Fisher, Don Harty asked the court for the return of his father’s hiking boots – something he said some would likely find odd, or morbid. The elder Harty had been wearing the boots, making sure they were properly broken in, because he was preparing for another hike when he was murdered. The initial request was denied – the court said the boots, part of evidence at trial, would be needed in the event of an appeal, Don was told. After several years, through the efforts of lead prosecutor Jeremy Bucci, the hiking boots were released – an act that required signoffs by both the judge in the case and the defense counsel.

Don and his brother Tom picked up the boots, still in their brown paper evidence bags, and took them to his Kennebunk home, where they sat for months. Then in March, he and his son Sam opened the two bags. Don said he was worried about what he might see, but the boots were unsullied.

Thomas Harty’s great-granddaughter will take the original boot laces and craft a necklace.

And Don Harty will keep his father’s boots walking.

“The good man is the driving force – these are his boots,” he said.

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