Heather Das was at the gym when she overheard some parents talking.
They were discussing their hiking group that met regularly in Harrisburg. A Midtown resident, Das was intrigued. She loved the outdoors, but living in the city wasn’t exactly the prime place for tree-lined hiking trails. Besides, she was a mom to two girls. How did other parents make time?
Her inquiry led her to find out the group, with the fitting name of Hike it Baby, wasn’t just for parents, but for their kids, as well.
Das and her girls went on their first hike in Wildwood Park with the group in 2016. Light snow dusted the trail, and a cold air nipped their noses.
“The first time I went, there was a sense of community, regardless of the weather,” Das said.
She had found her community and knew this was where she and her daughters belonged. Almost immediately after joining, Das started hosting her own hikes and became a Hike it Baby ambassador.
Hike it Baby is a nonprofit with more than 300 branches that host over 1,500 hikes each month across North America. Their mission is to connect families with young children to each other and to nature.
Harrisburg formed its own branch of Hike it Baby in 2015. There are currently nine ambassadors for the branch and more than 3,000 members in their Facebook group. Anyone is welcome to join, and they typically host a couple of hikes each week.
“Living in the city, we relied on Hike it Baby as our outdoor time,” Das said. “I’ve been lucky to find a lot of moms that are looking to explore and not just do simple trails.”
Some of the hikes have included White Rocks Trail in Boiling Springs, Lebanon Valley Rail Trail and the Appalachian Trail. The crew also enjoys Harrisburg hikes like the Greenbelt and participates in what they call “urban strolls” around the city and City Island.
Denise Hirn, another ambassador, especially loves trips to small local playgrounds and parks.
“We like to go to smaller parks to bring awareness to them,” she said.
Walk the Trail
When Hirn initially joined Hike it Baby, her goal was to lose the weight from her recent pregnancy and to help cope with the postpartum depression she faced. She bought a framed backpack baby carrier, excited to be part of a group that fit well with her interests.
“I was looking for a community, and traditional mom’s groups didn’t fit me,” she said. “I wanted to be around other like-minded people who wanted to be outside.”
What both Das and Hirn found wasn’t just a community of their own, but one they were happy to involve their children in for the sake of friendship and education.
“A lot of children in the group have grown up together,” Das said. “It’s neat to see newer people come in with babies, and the next thing you know they are teaching them to walk on the trail.”
Both moms also desire to see their kids learn to love and respect nature as they do. Hike it Baby often practices principles of “leave no trace” to keep the outdoors litter-free and does occasional cleanup hikes at local parks.
No matter the time of year, the Hike it Baby crew will be outside. Even in the colder months, they hold workshops to train families on how to layer clothes well.
They also hold food and diaper drives for children in need in the community, and they collect baby carriers for group members to use.
Whether it’s to get their kids away from screens, get their minds off work or to enjoy community, Hike it Baby is all about getting more people in nature.
“We are devoted to getting young children outside,” Hirn said.
And although the group has “baby” in the name, Hirn assured, “you don’t ever really age out.”
To participate in a hike or learn more about Hike it Baby Harrisburg, join their Facebook group or visit https://community.hikeitbaby.com/branches/harrisburg-pa/.