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Taking a glided tour through history

May 20, 2007|By TAMELA BAKER

SHARPSBURG - Jeffrey Hutman has always loved the outdoors.

Biking, climbing, kayaking - he's done it all.

But a snowboarding accident on New Year's Eve in 2005 left him with an injured right shoulder and practically immobilized him for months.

That's when his own circumstances, coupled with a contract work assignment, blossomed into the concept of TourGlides - a company offering guided Segway tours of Antietam National Battlefield, Hagerstown's City Park and other recreational areas.

Hutman, a graphic designer and art director for Ranger Rick magazine, was working on a project for a company called City Segways, which, as its name suggests, offers Segway tours of cities.

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"And I thought, 'I'm right here in the heart of history,'" the Sharpsburg resident said.

Segways would allow for leisurely visits to what Hutman calls "our national treasures," and would let people who couldn't physically bike or hike enjoy detailed tours of historic or scenic areas.

Another plus for nature-lover Hutman - the battery-operated Segways are electrically recharged, and cause no pollution.

Hutman took his idea to Antietam National Battlefield Superintendent John Howard.

"John Howard and the park service had been investigating this for a long time," he said. He secured permission to do tours of the battlefield, and went to work getting permits at other recreational areas.

Now, TourGlides offers Segway tours of Antietam and Monocacy national battlefields, City Park, Shepherdstown, W.Va., the Washington & Old Dominion Trail in Northern Virginia and several other rural areas and resorts. And Hutman's working on a list of two dozen more.

Tours currently range in price from $65 to $85 per person. Some tours include authorized "expert" guides; all include all the necessary equipment as well as training on operating the Segway Personal Transporter, a two-wheeled apparatus with a sophisticated system of gyroscopes that make balancing easy and falling difficult.

The Segways are fairly simple to navigate - lean forward, they go forward. Lean back, they go backward. Tilt the handlebar to the left, they turn left. Tilt it to the right and they turn, well, right.

"It's sort of the sensation of skiing," Hutman said.

Because they're so easily operated, Hutman envisions opening up new recreational opportunities for people who have difficulty getting around. "There's a whole population that can't get out without something like this," he said.

Working with the National Park Service, the City of Hagerstown and other venues, he hopes to build a model here that can be duplicated in other parts of the country.

He's forging partnerships with other local businesses to add specialized tours - such as vineyard and orchard tours, even therapeutic tours - and to add amenities to the treks TourGlides already operates. For example, he partnered with Antietam Cafe in Sharpsburg to develop a menu for groups who want meals along with their tours.

"Gliders" must be at least age 14, and group tours are limited to nine participants.

Although his venture is new, Hutman has an endless range of potential tours in mind - from local towns to rail trails to scenic "photo" tours to nighttime tours (or, "nocturnal wanderings") to ghost tours for Halloween.

And he's open to additional tour suggestions from his customers.

"We'll go anywhere anyone wants to go," he said.

More information can be found at www.tourglides.com.

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