Hike it Baby: Group Encourages Nature-Loving Kids, Like-Minded Community

On a recent sunny spring morning, Amanda Dabideen took her almost two-year-old son Brandon for a walk at Schrier Park in Portage.

Amanda Dabideen and
Amanda Dabideen and Brandon.

The stroll was the pair’s first encounter with the Kalamazoo branch of Hike it Baby, an organization dedicated to getting families outside. Between parents, nannies, relatives, and kids, about 30 people showed up to walk the trail that day and Dabideen said she’d definitely be back.

“I’ve wanted to get him outside more but it’s hard by yourself,” she said. “I’d love to explore different areas and it’s always nice to make new mom friends.”

The organization started in Portland, Oregon, about three years ago, and quickly spread. There are now chapters in 48 states and international branches have popped up in Australia, Canada, Italy and South Africa. Michigan currently has 10 chapters in the state, with groups planning hikes in Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Genesee County, Holland, Jackson, Lansing, Livingston, Muskegon, and Traverse City.

“Our main goal is to get children back into nature and to get people outside in a community that can support them,” said Christel Peters, the editor of Hike it Baby’s blog. Peters fell in love with the organization after joining the Anchorage, Alaska chapter and starting branches in Rapid City and Spearfish, South Dakota.

Members of the Kalamazoo branch of Hike it Baby.
Members of the Kalamazoo branch of Hike it Baby on a recent outing.

Local chapters are led by volunteers and abide by a shared set of ideals such as leaving no family behind, encouraging strong community, instilling a love of the outdoors in the next generation, respecting nature and inspiring wellness. Peters has joined groups in different states when she’s been on vacation and said while the goal of each group is similar, they all tend to develop their own character and community based on the individuals who show up.

“It’s so different for every group, which makes it so much fun,” Peters said.

Nannies, grandparents, aunts, uncles, moms, dads and other relatives are encouraged to bring babies, young children, even teens if they’re so inclined. Hikes are generally stroller-friendly and take place in local parks or on local trails.

Autumn Malmquist-Mellinger is one of four leads for the Kalamazoo chapter, which launched in September. She likes the bonding time with daughter Maya, 2, and the adult time she gets hanging out with other caregivers.

Many local organizations have helped get the word out about the Kalamazoo chapter, including Kalamazoo Babywearers, Kalamazoo Dads, and the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy.

“There was a high demand with all the beautiful trails around here,” Malmquist-Mellinger said.

2014-01-01 00.00.00-452Spending time with like-minded people was mentioned by several Kalamazoo-area parents as an attractive part of the Hike it Baby experience.

“Being able to form a community within parenting is really important,” said Kyle Lunger, who brought 3-year-old Kaden. Lunger is the assistant director for Kalamazoo Dads and actually lived in Portland, Oregon for a while, which gave him the opportunity to hike with the original chapter.

“It can be really isolating to be home with little kids for any length of time,” said Zoe Valette, who had Hayden, 3, and Harlow, 9 months, in tow and is also a member of Kalamazoo Babywearers. “It’s a nice excuse to get us outside and still spend time with friends.”

Find a chapter of Hike it Baby near you and learn more about the organization here. Look for upcoming guest blog posts by the organization right here through MI Big Green Gym, a partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, mParks (Michigan Recreation & Parks Association) and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. MI Big Green Gym promotes Michigan’s extensive park and recreation opportunities as places to get active and stay healthy. 

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Photo credit: Julie Bitely

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