- Associated Press - Saturday, February 14, 2015

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Once upon a time, going for a hike was a simple activity.

Toss a few snacks, water and appropriate gear into a backpack, lace up your hiking boots, and you’re ready to roll.

That all changes once you have children.

Between diapers, changing pad, spit-up rag, food, toys, carrier, clothes - and a few million other items you’d never even considered - it can feel as though you’re outfitting a small army rather than a tiny human being.

And that’s without even considering your child’s mood.

Taken together, it can be difficult for parents, especially new parents, to get out on the trail.

But a group called Hike It Baby, which recently opened a branch in Salem, is encouraging new parents to get outdoors by offering a supportive atmosphere on organized weekly hikes.

A collection of 118 people are part of the Salem group, and during the last two weekends, they’ve had hikes at the Croisan Trail system in South Salem and Kezier Rapids Park.

“There’s so much to consider when you’re hiking with young children, and the great thing is that other parents understand and are supportive, while other people, even your friends, might not be as understanding,” said Bob Reinhardt, a Salem parent of a 1- and 3-year-old. “We really want to get our children to experience the outdoors, and it’s really helpful to do that with a community of parents facing the same challenges.”

The co-leader of the Salem group is Amy Snook Rockwell, 39, who is the mother of 2-year-old Marshall. Rockwell liked the idea of hiking with other parents.

“Once you have kids, you have to learn to hike at a different pace, in a different style, than you did before,” Rockwell said.

Right now, the group brings together a combination of children aged from just a few months to 3 year olds (one pregnant lady even joined on the Croisan hike).

“My goal is to get enough people involved that we could have different styles of hikes, one for babies in strollers or carriers, and one for older kids who might want to spend some time running around themselves,” Rockwell said.

She added that while the last two hikes have been within Salem-Keizer city limits, in the future, she’d like to add hikes to places a bit farther away.

“We’re starting very local and then branching out,” she said.

Hike It Baby was launched a year and a half ago in Portland by Shanti Hodges, a new parent who, like Rockwell, was looking for a more social hiking experience.

Problem was, many of her friends wanted to do bigger hikes she wasn’t ready for. At a parenting group, she invited a few “new mamas” to join her on a short hike.

“I was attending these groups for moms, which were great but were all inside, and since it was summer, I wanted to get out,” Hodges said. “I asked a few of the moms if they wanted to go for a hike the next day, and we went to Forest Park (in Portland).

“I saw how cool it was the way the mamas supported each other, the way those with more experience would show others how to use the carriers and things like that.”

From those humble beginnings, Hike It Baby has exploded into something of a national phenomenon.

Spurred on by social media, there are now Hike It Baby branches in 70 cities.

There are branches in Oregon in Portland, Salem, Eugene, Corvallis, Bend and Pendleton. A whopping nine branches opened in just 10 days.

Part of the appeal, along with getting outdoors with young children, is the simplicity. Each branch publishes a calendar online and has a private Facebook group.

It’s free, you don’t have to RSVP in advance, and anyone can show up.

The only caveats are a zero tolerance for discussion about race, religion, sexual orientation, politics, socio-economic status or personal child-rearing choices. The group also endorses Leave No Trace ethics (even packing out diapers).

Beyond that, it’s all about parental collaboration and the benefits of getting children in nature.

“What’s really cool is how many moms and dads have said they were suffering - just feeling like their adventure life was over - until they started with Hike It Baby,” Hodges said. “And that’s the goal, to show people the benefit of getting young children into nature as soon as possible. It really makes a difference.”


The original story can be found on the Statesman Journal’s website: https://stjr.nl/1FaHAQr


Information from: Statesman Journal, https://www.statesmanjournal.com

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