Bright sunshine and cool temperatures made great conditions for a morning hike at Cucumber Falls in Ohiopyle State Park as four mothers recently took their young children for an adventure in the outdoors.
“We like to get outside. It’s so beautiful here,’’ said Gina Kimmel of Ohiopyle, who brought her son, Grady, 6, who is home schooled. “We live a couple of miles away and we come as often as we can.’’
The women are members of Hike It Baby, an international organization “dedicated to getting children outside with their families,’’ according to its website. The group started in 2013 as founder Shanti Hodges of Portland, Oregon, invited other families to join hers for hikes and the number of participants grew. A representative from the Hike It Baby National Team, reported the organization now has 164,594 members in 304 branches in 10 countries.
Locally, there is a branch in Brownsville, which branch ambassador Caroline Moore, of West Brownsville said has 40-plus members. Other nearby branches are in Pittsburgh and Morgantown, West Virginia, with hikes often posted on calendars for all three branches and members intermingling.
“I started with the Pittsburgh chapter when I was seven months pregnant, and then I started this branch when he was born,’’ said Caroline, referring to her 14-month-old son, John More III, who was quick to smile at all the wonders in front of him.
Hike It Baby members register with the national website in order to find local branches and see local events. As a security measure, no one can see the hiking calendar unless they are registered. There are no dues or fees except if a venue charges admission, such as a zoo. A recent check of walks in the area showed no charges.
Any member can host a hike, which can be found throughout the region almost every day, scheduled for morning, afternoon and evenings. Members chose whenever and wherever they want to participate. Members who are on trips can also look up walks in areas they are visiting, including hikes in other countries.
Each hike includes the place, date and time, description of the trail and whether it’s easy, moderate or hard. The listing includes how many miles are covered — many listed on a recent check were one- to three-miles long.
There’s information on cellphone reception, toilets, available drinking water, whether dogs are allowed and potential hazards for babies or children, such as crossing water. A walk listed for Coopers Rock in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia, suggested hikers take a jacket or long-sleeved shirt. There’s also contact information for the hike host.
Women on the Ohiopyle walk enjoy sharing the outdoors with their children and giving themselves a break.
“I need to get away from an urban setting,’’ said Dawn Zacharias, of Pittsburgh, who drove about an hour to take her daughter, Hazel, 15 months, on the hike.
Dawn started taking her son, Owen, 13, on hikes when he was four years old and first took Hazel when she was three weeks old. She joined Hike It Baby a year ago.
Jena Pust, of Eighty Four, who arranged this hike, arrived with her son, Waylon, 3. Jena’s other children, Gabrielle, 11, and Tristan, 5, who are in school, also enjoy hiking.
“I like to see them explore. We get to see new things. If we don’t know what it is, we take a picture and look it up,’’ said Jena, who joined Hike It Baby about six months ago.
The hike at Ohiopyle State Park started in the parking lot at Cucumber Falls, off Route 381, where the hikers met, introduced themselves and started across a grated bridge before going a half mile on a trail and heading back.
Before reaching the parking lot, the hikers went down another path toward the Youghiogheny River where the children played — first going through a small creek bed and then heading toward the river where the children played in the water and explored.
They finished by heading back into the woods and walking past the Cucumber Falls on their way back to the parking lot.
The hike was kid-paced, often stopping to look at flowers, trees and a green spider. At the river, the kids waded in the water, climbed on rocks and watched rafters — mothers right in there with them. The babies alternated walking with riding in carriers on their mothers’ backs. They also climbed on rocks and played in the water. The children sometimes led the walks, sometimes lingered.
The hike lasted more than two hours. There were plenty of stops for snacks and a chance to rest by the river. The children and mothers treated one another with respect and looked out for each other. Everybody walks together; everybody stops together. A respect for nature is shown as well with every site left undisturbed.
“We just love being outside and getting fresh air,’’ said Gina, who joined Hike It Baby at the beginning of summer, while Grady nodded he enjoyed the walk. “It’s good for your mental health and your physical health — it’s relaxing.’’
“It brings like-minded women together,’’ said Jena. “We’re here to have our kids closer to nature and to have a good time with them.’’