Walkin' Jim Stoltz set off on his last forever wild hike on Friday, Sept. 3, 2010. Our master troubadour and dear friend fought a heroic battle with cancer in Helena, Mont. He was 57 years old.
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Walkin' Jim is widely known throughout the United States for his unique combination of long-distance hiking, original songwriting and photography. Jim was an adventurer, artist, poet, photographer, author and environmental activist.
In his lifetime, he accomplished numerous long-distance treks including the complete lengths of the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, an east-to-west cross-continent hike, the entire U.S. Continental Divide, trips from Yellowstone to the Yukon, and many others. In total, he hiked more than 28,000 miles of long-distance trips.
When not on a long trip, Walkin' Jim could be found on any of the many trails in southwest Montana for a day hike with family and friends. He was also an avid cross-country skier. Jim also enjoyed wilderness travels by canoe.
Between trips, Jim would create, produce and perform original shows of his travels with photography and music, always incorporating his keen sense of environmental awareness and justice for all things wild. His musical, hiking, and environmental career spanned 45 years.
Jim was born in Royal Oak, Mich., June 8, 1953, to Wilbur and Audra Stoltz. He graduated from Royal Oak- Kimball High School.
Walkin' Jim began playing the guitar when he was in the fourth grade. He performed in several bands during the 1970s. He first learned his love for the outdoors and hiking with the Boy Scouts. His first long-distance hike was from Georgia to Maine on the Appalachian Trail in 1973. The following year, Jim began his Ocean to Ocean walk beginning in West Quodyhead, Maine, and ending on the Olympic Peninsula, Wash. The entire trip followed dirt roads, railroad tracks and trails.
Jim's first recording was "Spirit is Still on the Run" in 1986. He also recorded "Forever Wild," "Listen to the Earth," "The Long Trails," and many others. Walkin' Jim produced over eight musical albums and one music video for children, "Come Walk With Me."
Jim was an accomplished poet. His poetry was published as "Whisper Behind the Wind." Walkin' Jim wrote a book, "Walking with the Wild Wind: Reflections on a Montana Journey," highlighting his inspirational travels and wilderness philosophy.
A few years ago, Jim discovered his talent for painting. He developed an extensive array of work in oils, specializing in interpretive environmental themes. He liked to work in the medium of oil-based cattle markers on canvas. Many of his paintings reflected themes from his songs and poetry.
Walkin' Jim founded Music United to Sustain the Environment (MUSE) with Craig Wagner and Joyce Rouse. MUSE is a group of professional touring musicians who are concerned about the health of our planet. Many of them draw their inspiration from the land, and feel the need to give something back to protect it. Walkin' Jim stood at the forefront of many environmental causes throughout the country.
Jim helped with the planning and design of several trails throughout the American Southwest. A short segment of U.S. Forest Service trail in northern Arizona was recently created and named the Walkin' Jim Trail.
To spread his love of people and song, Jim was employed for nearly 30 winter seasons at Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, driving horse-drawn sleighs to festive dinners where he performed his extensive repertoire of music.
Jim's life is richly entwined by a web of countless dear friends, including thousands of children throughout the country who have learned and loved his stories and songs.
Walkin' Jim is survived by his true friend, Leslie Stoltz of Big Sky; brother, Mark Stoltz of Honor, Mich.; sisters, Susan Grace Stoltz of Fairbanks, Alaska, and Lisa Mohr of Wixom, Mich.; and many nieces and nephews.
Jim's lifework and dreams centered on his desire to share the beauty, the unique character, the mood and the value of wilderness through his music, writings, art and activism. He leaves a special and enduring legacy to his family, friends and enumerable fans - a legacy directing all of us to live lives of happiness while sharing in and protecting all things wild.
A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 8, at Last Chance Ranch, 2884 Grizzly Gulch, Helena, Mont. Directions for contributions will be determined in the near future. Updated information will be available soon at www.walkinjim.com.
Arrangements are under the care of Retz Funeral Home in Helena. To offer condolences to the family or to share a memory of Jim, please visit www.retzfuneralhome.com.
Retz Funeral Home
315 East Sixth Ave
Helena, MT 59601
Published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle on Sept. 7, 2010