Into the Woods
One week after Megan Kraai found out she was pregnant, her husband, Bryan, made a trip to the store. He wasn't looking for a crib, a car seat or diapers. There was only one thing on his mind: a hiking backpack that could carry the baby on treks into the woods.
"We always knew once we started a family, we were going to have the outdoors be a big part of his life," Bryan, 42, said. "It's a large part of ours - it's how we met."
When the couple moved to Gahanna from Seattle two-and-a-half years ago, they were most nervous about how central Ohio's outdoor opportunities would compare to the Pacific Northwest's, and how they'd make friends. Both quandaries were largely resolved when they learned about Hike It Baby.
The Columbus branch of Hike It Baby formed about a year ago, but the larger organization got its start in 2013 in Portland, Oregon, when Shanti Hodges invited a few families to join her on a hike. According to a July 25, 2016, story in Outside Magazine, Hodges never meant to start a movement. The hikes began casually but soon grew in popularity, as new parents took to the idea of getting outside, in the woods, with other new parents.
Today, Hike It Baby is a nonprofit with 300 branches and 160,000 participating families across North America, according to its website, hikeitbaby.com. Most cities host a few hikes a week-the Columbus branch tends to average one a week-even in winter.
The outings are open to all skill levels and ages, though kids should, ideally, be between newborn and school-age.
Most of the local branch's hikes take place at one of the Metro Parks, but they vary dramatically in length, size and difficulty. Some hikes are short, while others are long (up to 5 miles). Some are as large as 40 families, while others have as few as one or two. Some are flat and accommodate wheelchairs and strollers, while others cover rougher terrain and call for carriers.
Columbus branch founder Shannon Stinchcomb, 37, of Dublin, first heard of Hike It Baby through a baby-wearing Facebook group, where one of the moms casually mentioned the organization. Stinchcomb went online to check out the national group's core values, which include leaving no hiker behind and connecting kids with nature.
"It was exactly what we were looking for," Stinchcomb said. "I signed up that day, went through the two-week training program and started the branch in Columbus. And then it just went from there, kind of blew up really quickly, actually."
The growth is largely attributable to word of mouth, she said. Judging from the branch's one-year anniversary hike in late September, it's easy to see why.
Members met at Gahanna's Hannah Park about 40 minutes before sunset on the night of the first presidential debate. After a brief round of introductions, the little ones got glow sticks and the hike got underway.
About a half-dozen families walked the 1-mile loop, talking with each other as the sky faded from blue to pink to black. As the autumn night descended, Todd Stinchcomb, 46, jokingly laid a trail of Teddy Grahams for the others to follow.
Kristin Patterson, 34, said it only took one hike to hook her and her family (Drew, 40, and Max, 15 months). "After that, I started going to pretty much every event they were having," she said.
The same was true for Kraai, her husband and their son, Conner, 14 months, after they attended the group's first hike about a year ago. After a few months, Kraai joined Patterson as one of the Columbus branch ambassadors.
"One of the most important things about Hike It Baby, and one of the reasons I wanted to be so involved, is it's such a good resource for new families," Kraai said. "I saw what it did for us: We met some of our best friends by coming to the hikes."