LURAY, Va. -- For many hikers, the chestnut oaks and white pines in Virginia forests have cast longer shadows in the year since two women were found with their throats slashed at a back-country campsite in Shenandoah National Park.
No one has been arrested. Now the peaceful can seem eerie.
Derry Hutt, a veterinarian and woodworker in Blacksburg, Va., used to hit the woods once a week with her mutt, Cassie. Since the slayings, Hutt, 37, has waited until a friend could go along, cutting her trail time to about once a month.
Over Memorial Day weekend, Hutt and women in at least 35 other states are charging into the mountains as part of a national Take Back the Trails campaign inspired by the Take Back the Night marches against rape.
"Some women have told me, `This is the first weekend that I've been out for over a year,' " said the event's national coordinator, Nina Roberts, the assistant director of a conservation group in Arlington. "We have had enough."
One of yesterday's hikers was Patsy Williams, the mother of one of the Shenandoah victims. She joined several friends and relatives for an occasionally tearful stroll in the national park, 80 miles southwest of Washington.
Faded posters in the park offer a $25,000 reward for clues in the deaths of Julianne Williams, 24, and her companion, Lollie Winans, 26, who were last seen at an Appalachian Trail shelter on May 24, 1996, and were found near a side trail on June 1. Their golden retriever, Taj, survived and lives with friends of Winans in Maine.
"We don't want to generate fear," Patsy Williams said, pausing at Mary's Rock trail head. "After Julie died, we received cards and letters from people all over the United States, and there seemed to be a really strong theme of women who hike and camp, tha t they don't want this to stop women."
Williams, 50, a nurse practitioner from St. Cloud, Minn., wore an "In Remembrance of Julianne" button that shows her daughter smiling, with a red bandanna in her tousled, dark-brown hair.
Take Back the Trails was organized -- largely through e-mail -- by the Women's Professional Group of the Association for Experiential Education, a nonprofit group of outdoor education leaders.
In addition to hikes, women's groups throughout the country have planned Memorial Day weekend backpacking trips, rock climbs, canoe trips, nature walks and self-defense workshops.
"Men have been hiking and camping with the guys for years and years, and women historically have not had that opportunity," said Roberts, the national coordinator. "We want to create a safe space for women to be amongst themselves and not defer the hard j obs to the men."
Roberts said about half the organizing effort came from gay and lesbian leaders, who believe the trail slayings were a hate crime, although law enforcement officials have not ruled either way.
Among the organizers was Katie Hultquist, 23, of Northwest Washington, who posted fliers about the event in bookstores, gyms and cafes. She recruited a group of 12, who met yesterday at the Metrorail station in Vienna before heading for an eight-mile loop hike in George Washington National Forest.
"Lesbians face a double threat of attack and harassment in the outdoors, because they're women and because they're lesbian," she said.
A National Park Service spokeswoman said that despite the perception, statistics show that crime in parks has decreased as areas have become more heavily used.
That's why officials at the Appalachian Trail Conference, which manages the 2,160-mile trail from Georgia to Maine, were dismayed when they heard the Take Back the Trails slogan.
"The implication is that the woods are full of predators," said Brian B. King, a spokesman at the conference headquarters in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.
But King said officials felt better after they learned that the actual message was that fear shouldn't keep people out of the woods. He said that although the trail is generally safe (the biggest crime problem is with hikers' cars being vandalized), offic ials recognize that fear has increased.
"When someone's killed on the trail, it makes a lot of news because there's an expectation that it shouldn't happen there, any more than in a church," King said. "They're both sanctuaries."
@CAPTION: Ritz Stutzinger, left, godmother of Julianne Williams, one of the slaying victims, and Patsy Williams, Julianne's mother, hike in Shenandoah National Park.
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company
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