Aaron Bell leans against a walking stick on the deck of his Switzerland County home. The creator of Switz Sticks uses the deck as his workshop, partly for the picturesque view of the wooded hillside in the background. He uses mostly fallen maple or eastern red cedar branches for his hand-crafted walking sticks. (Staff photo Seth Grundhoefer/ sgrundhoefer@madisoncourier.com)
Aaron Bell leans against a walking stick on the deck of his Switzerland County home. The creator of Switz Sticks uses the deck as his workshop, partly for the picturesque view of the wooded hillside in the background. He uses mostly fallen maple or eastern red cedar branches for his hand-crafted walking sticks. (Staff photo Seth Grundhoefer/ sgrundhoefer@madisoncourier.com)
One Switzerland County resident has combined several interests into an eco-friendly business that also complements his everyday job.

Aaron Bell of Vevay has always enjoyed the outdoors, whether just enjoying a walk in the woods or helping to conserve nature through his work with the Southeastern Indiana Recycling District.

"The outdoors have always been my thing," Bell said. "I think it's just an appreciation for the outdoors."

Yet Bell never set out to open his own business. In fact, his business - Switz Sticks - began as more of a hobby.

He began collecting downed tree limbs to create hiking sticks for himself a while ago. Then he began adding decorations and making the hiking sticks for other people. His hobby continued to grow over time, he said, and he decided to open a business after taking a few special orders from people who heard of his work.

"It's kind of evolved," he said of Switz Sticks. "This just started out as a fun little thing."

Bell, who works as director of the Southeastern Indiana Recycling District, doesn't consider himself an artist, but he finds the work to be almost therapeutic.

Most times he sits on the deck of his log home just for the view of the surrounding wooded area after a day of work.

"I've always kind of dabbled with wood," he said. "It's just turned into something I enjoy."

Combining his love for nature and just being outdoors, Bell searches for already-downed limbs or branches that are about six feet long while taking hikes or after a storm has gone through the area.

"Of all the things I do, collecting sticks is the hardest," Bell said. "There are days when I'll walk in the woods and only find one or two sticks."

He isn't picky when it comes to wood varieties, but it does help for the branch to be strong and straight. Even knotted wood works for his projects, he said, and knots often add character. He uses the wood from Eastern Red Cedar trees most frequently, but he's also worked with maple and other wood varieties.

Bell completes almost all of the work for hiking sticks by hand. From hand-picking the sticks and striping away some of the bark to burning designs and using feathers for decoration. He spends about five or six hours to design and complete each of his one-of-a-kind sticks.

"A lot of times, I have a theme in mind with a stick," Bell said.

"Some of them fall together really easy," he said. "Some of them you just know."

Most of the branches he uses need to dry for at least three or four months before the work begins.

While a few people use his creations for their intended purpose, many of the hiking sticks never see an outdoor walking trail once purchased.

"Most of the time, people are hanging them as decoration," Bell said.

Switz Sticks also allows Bell to put his work at the Southeastern Indiana Recycling District into practice when it comes to recycling.

"We put so much into recycle and reuse," he said, and this is just another way for him to uphold part of the Southeastern Indiana Recycling District's mission.

Although there are always pieces and wood shavings left over after creating one of the hiking sticks, Bell does his best to use every part of the branch. He plans to begin creating smaller items - like business card holders - of the smaller pieces of wood left from trimming the branches down to the size needed for a hiking stick.

"It's just really fun for me to repurpose something that is just going to be ground up." Bell said.