Hike it Baby provides camaraderie for pint-sized hikers and their caregivers
Much has been said about the importance of getting kids outside, but the enthusiasm of the “No Child Left Inside” movement tends to leave out preschool-age children.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, many children under age 5 fail to meet physical activity guidelines, in the form of at least 60 minutes of unstructured activity, preferably outdoor play. And mentally, too, toddlers (and their caregivers) benefit from regular bouts of fresh air and exercise.
That’s where Hike it Baby comes in, to bridge that gap and provide a way for wee ones and their caregivers to get out in nature. This national nonprofit group started in 2013 and currently counts more than 300 groups (called “branches”) across the country, including two in the Adirondacks.
A blend of online community and real-life meetups, the Adirondack Coast Hike it Baby Facebook group has more than 600 online members throughout the Champlain Valley, from Plattsburgh to Lake Placid. Jay resident Valerie Gregory serves as de facto leader, planning and posting about hikes, events and other meetups.
Like many new moms, Gregory was feeling homebound and stir crazy as a stay-at-home parent to her baby, Aaron. She came across Hike it Baby online and went to her first trails event at Point au Roche State Park, north of Plattsburgh, in spring of 2016, when Aaron wasn’t yet a year old.
“I was looking for a way to get outside and do something,” she said. “I hadn’t hiked before, so told everyone to go easy on me.” Little did she know that first walk in the woods along Lake Champlain would kick off a new passion and foster a sense of communitywith her fellow Hike it Baby members.
Before Aaron turned 3 he had completed the Tupper Lake Triad, and by age 4 he had tackled all four mountains in the “Adirondack Hikes 4 Tykes” challenge (Pilot Knob, Shelving Rock, Mount Jo and Poke-OMoonshine). When the Gregorys have time, they try out hikes from Adirondack Mountain Club’s “Kids on the Trail” guide.
For Hike it Baby, the hikes tend to fit into two categories: ones that are toddler-paced and ones geared toward adults who are carrying little ones on their backs or other carriers, which is an opportunity for parents of babies and young children to get out and stretch their legs.
Toddler-paced hikes are chosen with a few guidelines: No more than a few miles total and no one is left behind.
“The hardest part is when they don’t want to be in a pack but don’t want to walk (or have trouble keeping up),” said Gregory. She brings a light-weight packable carrier for Aaron in case of emergency (or preschooler meltdown), and has extra carriers and gear she lends out to other parents.
In the past few years, Hike it Baby hikes have included Mount Jo, Poke-O, Mount Arab, Owl’s Head and other small mountains, as well as jaunts to Copperas Pond, and flat walks in the woods at Point au Roche State Park. Winter outings tend to be more “park and play” events, with sledding and snowman making, as well as short snowshoe hikes. For Valentine’s Day this year, Gregory
put on a candy cane hunt along a short trail at Macomb Reservation State Park in Peru.
While the in-person meetups have been on pause during the COVID-19 pandemic, the online group remains active. “Lots of people following the Facebook page go and do the hikes on their own,” said Gregory.
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Over time, the core group’s membership has fluctuated as kids get older, families expand or people move away, it seems there are plenty of newcomers to take their places. “We tend to attract people who have moved here and are not as familiar with the area,” she said. Since the hikes are posted on the national Hike it Baby website, they sometimes get people who are visiting from outside the region and looking for hikes to do, particularly in the summer and fall months.
Kristin Collins of Plattsburgh has been a core member since the start of the Adirondack Coast branch, hiking with her daughter, Cassidy, who is now 5 years old. “My first hike was Copperas Pond. Cass was almost 2 and I was carrying her,” she recalled. From there, she was hooked. “It’s a great group because everyone helps each other. We’ve had toddler meltdowns with 2 miles left to hike, potty training incidents by the side of the road, you name it. Moms share snacks, extra gloves, and between all of us, we’re prepared for the hike. Somehow it works,” she said with a laugh.
In addition to getting outside, one of the big rewards are the friends made, both the parents and the kids, Collins said. “The kids know each other, are great friends now. It’s nice to see them playing like kids are supposed to play.” As the park naturalist at Point au Roche State Park, Collins was inspired to do her own programming for the 0-5 age group. Little Explorers meets every other Monday at 10 a.m., and kids and their caregivers take part in nature-themed stories and crafts, as well as playing outside in all seasons. (The event has been modified in the era of COVID to provide for social distancing and other safety measures.)
“I was thinking about my kid and how hard it can be to find stuff to do with her and asked myself ‘what can I do for families to help them get kids outside,’” she said. “It’s always easier in a group and more fun for the kids.”