The Hank Aaron State Trail will continue to connect the community and serve children

The Friends of Hank Aaron State Trail (FOHAST) expressed sadness over news of the passing of Henry “Hank” Aaron on Jan. 22, 2021. “Hammerin’ Hank” was one of baseball’s greatest players and a man of enormous accomplishments and integrity as he broke many racial and cultural barriers. The Hank Aaron Trail, which connects the diverse neighborhoods of the greater Milwaukee area, exemplifies his legacy. 

Although Aaron lived in Atlanta after retiring from baseball, he left his mark on Milwaukee. Aaron and his family lent his name and support to the creation of the Hank Aaron State Trail, returning to Milwaukee for the opening of the trail in 2006 and numerous other events on or related to the trail. As the nonprofit tasked with enhancing, supporting and promoting the Hank Aaron State Trail, FOHAST aims to honor his legacy by providing a welcoming public space that helps bridge the divides that exist in our community.

“Hank Aaron was authentically humble and was truly honored to have the trail named after him,” said Melissa Cook, retired Hank Aaron State Trail manager for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. She said he was pleased the trail serves so many diverse neighborhoods and particularly children. According to Cook, Aaron said, “This is great! We need to do everything we can to get children [away from] television screens.”

Bruce Keyes, former president of the Friends of Hank Aaron State Trail, spent time with Aaron and his wife, Billye, at several trail events over the years. 

“He was the kindest of souls, always engaging and took a real interest in our efforts to make the trail a connecting point for the neighborhoods and for kids to get outdoors,” Keyes said. “It is our obligation to carry forward his legacy of unification across people of all colors and walks of life. The trail will persevere as a common meeting ground for the simple purpose of a walk or ride outdoors.”

Hank Aaron speaks at a podium with news microphones and a Hank Aaron State Trail sign in the foreground.

While it is easy to remember the batting records and great plays, it is important to recognize the challenging path Aaron traveled to achieve success in baseball. He was part of a small group of Black players in the major leagues when he played his first game with the Milwaukee Braves in 1954. Throughout his career, he received taunts at games, hate mail and even death threats simply due to the color of his skin. Through it all, Aaron persevered to become one of the greatest baseball players of all time and an inspiration to millions.

After retirement, Aaron continued to break racial barriers when he was named vice president of player development for the Atlanta Braves, one of the first Black Americans in senior management in Major League Baseball. He was a long-time supporter of the NAACP and with Billye, co-founded the Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation to help children achieve their dreams.

The Friends of Hank Aaron State Trail is a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustaining, promoting and enhancing the Hank Aaron State Trail. The group has sent more than 1,200 neighborhood kids to Bike Camps along the trail; has installed numerous art installations and cultural signs along the trail; coordinatedsenvironmental restoration activities; and organizes several annual events.

For more information, go to hankaaronstatetrail.org.