27 Sep Hike It Baby! ~ A Conversation With Founder Shanti Hodges
Wherever you are in the world I hope you had an amazing summer. I know I did. Over the last several months I’ve been on the road collecting stories for a broad new initiative to explore how people find their way into the outdoors. With grant funding from my partners at the nonprofits American Rivers and the National Forest Foundation along with Patagonia I made stops in the states of Georgia and Oregon to trace the routes of the great rivers that run through their biggest cities. From the Chattahoochee National Forest to Atlanta and the Willamette National Forest to Portland I went searching a direct connection between people in these urban centers and wilderness areas on Federally protected public land about 120 miles away. It didn’t take long for me to realize that for many folks live in cities nature is closer than they think and with just a little bit of help they can find their own pathway to the outdoors.
Along this journey I connected with an amazing organization based in the city of Portland called Hike It Baby. Created by my friend and colleague Shanti Hodges Hike It Baby connects families with children to wonderful outdoor experiences on short walks along easily accessible trails in cities across America and more than a few foreign countries. Like any great invention Shanti says the mother of her idea was necessity.
“I just wanted to figure out a way to find people to get outside with. So I initially just built a website a Facebook group and a newsletter,” she said in an interview. “I went on looking for hiking groups in Portland with babies and I found nothing.“
Within a few weeks Shanti added about one hundred people to her newsletter list. She got texts every day wanting to know when she was hiking next.
“I was leading four or five hikes a week and hundreds of people were texting me and calling me and Facebooking me. And then within a year we had a thousand and then people started writing me around the country,” she said. “They started seeing pictures and asking how are you getting out with these groups of people to these amazing hikes? People started writing me and telling me they were lonely and they were looking for friends and could they start a group in their town. I’d pay to send them business cards. I’d have business cards made so they could hand them out so people could find the website, find the hikes and we built a little calendar and it just exploded!”
Hike It Baby now has members numbering in the tens of thousands. And with hundreds of ambassadors around the world this remarkable organization brings families and children into the outdoors to become not only nature enthusiasts but also environmental stewards. There are Hike It Baby branches located in cities everywhere. If you can’t find one near you, maybe you can start one. If you want to learn more about how you can get involved just visit them online at hikeitbaby.org.
The Joy Trip Project is made possible thanks to the generous support of American Rivers, The National Forest Foundation and Patagonia.