Editor, Avid Hiker Dean Ahearn

By Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Dean James Ahearn, an inveterate backpacker who trekked through numerous national parks during summers and vacations from work as a managing editor with a nonprofit group, died Feb. 14 of liver failure related to colon cancer at Georgetown University Hospital. He was 48.

A former resident of Burke, he lived the last year in Hyattsville.

Mr. Ahearn, a journalist by training, worked for Tax Analysts for 15 years, mostly as the managing editor of the publication State Tax Notes. He began as a copy editor for the nonprofit organization, which focused on federal, state and local tax policy.

His first great passion, however, was the outdoors. He and his twin brother made their first backpacking trips shortly after graduating from college and continued to hike together until the time of Mr. Ahearn's death.

During these trips, Mr. Ahearn, his brother and others from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club hiked all of the trail mileage in Shenandoah National Park, trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee and throughout West Virginia and in a variety of backcountry areas across the United States and Canada. Mr. Ahearn was particularly fond of hiking the Dolly Sods, Cranberry, South Laurel Forks and Otter Creek wilderness areas in West Virginia.

As a member of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club for more than 25 years, he often joined other members on work trips to support the club's primary mission of maintaining the Appalachian Trail and its side trails in Virginia and Maryland. Members cleared overgrown brush, repaired washouts and repainted blaze marks on trees.

During his vacations from Tax Analysts, Mr. Ahearn made backpacking trips to many of the national parks in North America, including the Grand Canyon, Olympic National Park, Glacier National Park and Banff National Park in Canada.

In a 1991 story in The Washington Post, Mr. Ahearn wrote about a weekend trip he took to Shenandoah National Park and his experience spotting six black bears. He said he felt like Daniel Boone.

"When I see a bear, I'm suddenly more aware of the countryside around me -- a feeling that stays with me the whole day," he wrote. "Everything is more beautiful, more wild, more alive. And I come home with a story to tell."

Mr. Ahearn was born in Washington, a third-generation Washingtonian on both sides, and grew up in Silver Spring and Adelphi. He graduated from Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring in 1979 and from the University of Maryland in 1979 with a degree in journalism. In college, he was a copy editor and frequent contributor to the Diamondback, the university's newspaper.

After graduating, Mr. Ahearn joined the Army Times Publishing Co. as a production editor with responsibility for checking the pages of Army Times, Air Force Times, Navy Times and the other Times publications before they were plated and printed. From 1984 to 1989, he was a copy editor for the Air Force Times.

Before accepting his next job, Mr. Ahearn took a summer off and hiked the Appalachian Trail from Rockfish Gap, Va., at the southern end of Shenandoah National Park to its northern terminus at the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine. He later finished the remaining sections of the trail in a series of annual trips.

For the past five years, Mr. Ahearn also nurtured a deep interest in the history and locales of the Civil War. He owned a substantial library of books on the war, had walked most of the battlefields in the eastern United States and was a frequent contributor to online discussion groups regarding Civil War topics.

Mr. Ahearn also was a regular member of the Atheneum Book Club and a die-hard fan of the Washington Redskins and sports of all types. He loved a wide range of music, from the Rolling Stones to Bruce Springsteen to classical.

Besides his twin brother, Donn Ahearn of Riverdale, survivors include his father, F. Davis Ahearn, and his stepmother, Sharon Ahearn, of Wauchula, Fla.; a sister, Dale Gerry of College Park; and another brother, Daniel Ahearn of New York City.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company