- Associated Press - Friday, February 19, 2016

SALINA, Kan. (AP) - Since October, at least once a week, Jenna Miller and her 19-month-old baby girl, Evelyn, have gone on a hike.

For nearly two months, Miller hiked alone with Evelyn.

“It started off rough at times and just doing it by yourself doesn’t really motivate you to keep pushing at all,” she told Salina Journal (https://bit.ly/1QlxQfZ ). “I wasn’t sure I would keep doing the hikes, to be honest.”

Fast forward to now, and Miller coordinates hikes for more than 10 parents who bring their children along as part of Salina’s branch of Hike It Baby, a national website for parents to plan hikes or join with other hikers in their community.

Miller, 28, of Salina, is a stay-at-home mom and enjoys the hikes for more than just the exercise.

“I love it for the community and social part,” she said. “Being a parent can get lonely at times, and it helps knowing other parents and to have someone to talk to about different things. It allows us to get out and enjoy time outside of the house.”

Hike it Baby was started in 2013 in Portland, Oregon. The group started out small and grew each week, so its founder, Shanti Hodges, created HikeItBaby.com, along with a newsletter to help support the group.

Today, there are more than 500 Hike It Baby outings a week with three to 50 families per hike in 145 cities nationwide. The group also is growing in Canada and Australia.

“I didn’t really realize how big it was at first when I decided to start one in Salina,” Miller said. “I just randomly heard about it, visited their website and thought, ‘If I don’t start one in Salina, then who will?’

“It’s really great for exercise, and I think it’s important to teach the kids to appreciate nature.”

Salinan Danielle Schmidt, 28, who participates in the hikes and is the mother of three - Evan 7, Brexton, 2, Thea, 4 months - said, “We love to get outside.”

“I stay at home with those three and any chance we get we look to get outside, and this helps me to meet more parents who stay at home and socialize with them,” Schmidt said.

“I’m hoping that as the spring and summer months approach we can get together and do more things, like playing or sitting at the parks, having picnics and just being able to talk more. On the hikes, we’re always on the go and looking after the children so we don’t have much time to talk.”

Miller coordinates every hike in Salina - at Lakewood, Indian Rock and Oakdale parks - but hopes it grows to more than just a hiking group.

“I’d love to host more events with members of the group,” she said. “It’s something to do, it’s free and I want to do things for holidays and find more creative people to lead themed hikes. We’d also like to add family camping trips, eventually.”

This summer, Miller said, she is hoping to take day trips to Kanopolis Lake’s Horse Thief Canyon, Coronado Heights, Rock City and other similar areas.

Expanding the reach beyond Salina to include Solomon, Abilene, Minneapolis, Lindsborg and other nearby communities is the next step, she said.

“I want to get people to be co-branch leaders to help cover those areas,” Miller said. “It’s important that we continue to reach as many parents as we can.”


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