BETHANY - For 25 years, a group of dedicated walkers have quietly enjoyed their passion for the outdoors.

The group grew out of the friendship of two people, Barrie Tait Collins and Ann Childs, who shared a strong interest in trail walking.

Childs would tell Collins about her annual walking trips with the Cambridge Ramblers in England.

"She (Childs) kept talking about all the wonderful trips she would take and wanted to do something here. I told her 'Let's do it,'" Collins said.

Collins and Childs formed the Bethany Wanderers "to explore local and area trails, enjoy the exercise and help others gain greater awareness of Bethany's outdoor resources and the need to protect trails and open space, especially in town," Collins said.

Bethany is a good home base, since it's close to West Rock Ridge State Park's Regicides Trail and Quinnipiac Trail, the Blue-Blaze Trails, the Naugatuck State Forest, Bethany Land Trust's 400 acres, Veterans Memorial Park's 130 acres and the Regional Water Authority trails.

The Wanderers first met Jan. 25, 1983, at Bethany Town Hall. "About 25 people attended that first meeting," said Collins, who couldn't attend.

"At the time I was a reporter for the New Haven Register and had to cover a meeting," Collins said.

They chose the name Bethany Wanderers because hiking club seemed too formal and limiting. The club is open to anyone. Dues used to be $3 a year. They're now $5.

Childs was president pro tem for several months, until Johnson Parker was named president. He served for 10 years, followed by Collins, who served until 2005. Now, Joan Bettencourt is president of the 96-member club.

Bettencourt said she has been a member for several years.

"I have been involved since my first hike. I went on the millennium walk and there were almost 50 people. I was always interested in hiking," she said.

Kenneth Martin, chairman of the Bethany Conservation Commission, has been a member since 1987.

"My wife and I have always liked to walk," Martin said. "The first walk we took with the Bethany Wanderers made it an easy decision. I have learned all the hiking trails. I would lead three to four walks a year."

Shortly after forming, the Wanderers traveled to England for a visit with the Cambridge Ramblers. They hold five-year reunions, with the last one held this past summer.

One of the most notable Wanderers was Jim Lonergan, who led the walks for 15 years. He died Sept. 15. 2005

"From 1983 to 1998 he led 350 walks himself," Collins said. "When the Wanderers was formed in 1983, the wiry walker became its senior leader, heading out on trails of various length and difficulty but always keeping in mind the abilities of those who followed."

Over the years, the group has gathered many fond memories.

"One year we went from Blake Street to the Bethany Gap in Hamden," Martin said of a 9-mile walk that took five to six hours to complete.

"We always stop for scenic spots and to smell the roses," Collins said.

"When Dr. Steve Collins, an ecologist, would lead the walk, we would learn about botany. He always pointed out flowers, plants and anything interesting," Bettencourt said.

"We once saw a yellow lady slipper orchid. It was on St. John's Ledge on the Appalachian Trail," Martin said, explaining that a pink lady slipper is common but a yellow one is rare.

Then there was the time the hike along the Housatonic River took longer than expected.

"It was longer than the leader remembered. There was no option but to continue," Martin said.

The Wanderers have many annual events in addition to regular walks.

A meeting/reunion winter "bash" in January and a summer potluck supper in early June are staples.

For a while the group tried "popular progressive potluck "suppers on the go" beginning in 1989, linking three members' homes and walking in between courses.

"It was great fun but after 10 years we ran out of hosts," Collins said.

Weekends in late September are a Wanderer highlight, when a day trip is planned to a distant scenic area. Trips have included Jamaica, Vermont and Misquamicut, R.I.

And there are many annual hikes as well, including an anniversary hike on Beacon Cap Ridge in January; Roaring Brook and the Quinnipiac Trail in Cheshire in April; an Earth Day hike held since 1970; a summer solstice evening walk at Lake Bethany in June; a wildflower saunter on the Downs Road causeway in July; West Rock Ridge's Regicides Trail in late October and a post-Christmas ramble at the old Bethany airport.

The 96-member group boasts an eclectic membership, including Betsy Bartlett, professor of Chinese History at Yale University; Marie Borroff, professor of English literature and Yale's first tenured female professor; Mary Ehrler, the state's first female police officer; and Carol Nardini, director of community service for the town of Orange.

The next walk is at 10 a.m. Feb. 9 and meets at Old Mill Road and Valley roads. Call 393-1385 for information.