Pat Kelley doesn’t do what he does for glory or recognition, but to bring smiles to the faces of the people who visit Hope’s great outdoors.
Now known locally as the Stick Man, Kelley—a life-long Hope resident—has been leaving one-of-a-kind walking sticks along Hope’s trails for people to find for a few years now.
“It started (as a hobby) about 10 years ago,” explained Kelley, while sitting in his dining room. “I was an electrician. I always had a knife in my hand peeling wires and such, so it feels comfortable.”
Admittedly, the first stick Kelley made was for himself, but after that, he says he branched out to family and friends.
“And over the years, they got a bit more fancy,” he added. But he also managed to perfect his method during that time, whittling his time to about 45 minutes per stick.
Using a utility knife, Kelley cuts down a five- or 10-year-old sapling, and then scores and strips its bark to create designs or words. And after experimenting with a few different woods since he began carving, Kelley says he now exclusively uses broadleaf maple saplings for his walking sticks.
“The bark peels really easily—like a banana!—and dries hard relatively fast in a few days.”
Always a creative individual, Kelley says the initial positive his sticks received encouraged him to try and sell them as an artisan vendor in a local shop, however, that began feeling like work, which is exactly what Kelley didn’t want for his hobby.
“So I decided to give them away and get paid in Thank-Yous and smiles,” he said, smiling himself. “And since I retired, I’ve been leaving (sticks) on the trails more and more.
“I’ve gotten good reviews from people who’ve found them. It makes you feel good, and if it makes you feel good, you do it some more, right?” he asked with a laugh.
Since he began carving, Kelley estimates he’s made 100, but this is the first year he’s decided to count and he’s already at 30. And while there are locals who sport Kelley’s walking sticks, he says he guesses the majority of the sticks have been found by tourists, so they’re now outside of the community.
Kelley doesn’t just leave his walking sticks on the trails, he typically creates them there, too. “I usually do it as I’m walking, but the more detailed work I need to stop and concentrate on.
“And (that’s when) it’s a real conversation starter,” Kelley said. “I joke and call it ‘Talking to Tourists.’ But it makes their experience in Hope a bit better, I hope.
“But really, the expression on people’s faces—the genuine happiness—(when they find, or I give them one of my sticks), you can tell you’ve made somebody’s day. It’s little things like that (that’s) the best feeling.”