While Indiana’s weather may prove daunting to young and old at times – even closing school on occasion – one hardy group of Hoosier moms and their children look forward to a weekly stroll in the elements, come what may.
The group is called Hike it Baby, an international organization that advocates hiking outdoors with kids. Locally, a chapter of the group gets together once a week for hiking and some networking time as they trek through the great outdoors of Huntington County. The hikes, led at a child’s pace, give families with young children time to stop and experience nature up-close, as only children know how, and no one is left behind.
Tommi Tucker, a Huntington resident who is a volunteer host on the hikes, says the Huntington group has been meeting up since April of 2019, visiting various places throughout the county that offer hiking trails, including Pehkokia Woods, Memorial Park, the Forks of the Wabash, Markle Park, Tel-Hy Nature Preserve, Salamonie Lake and ACRES Land Trust. The hikes vary in length and time, but generally take place no matter what the weather decides to do that day.
“I started hosting the hikes after I read the book, ‘No Such Thing as Bad Weather,’ which is based on the Scandinavian philosophy that there is no bad weather, only bad clothing,” Tucker says. “Basically, as long as kids are adequately dressed in enough layers, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to go out in the cold, and it is even healthy for them to do so.”
Tucker’s Hike it Baby group generally meets every Friday morning, each week at a different location. About three families form the core regular group and others join in as they can.
“We really like the ACRES Land Trust, so we’ve been to those two that are in Huntington, and we’ve been to Hathaway Preserve, and Kokiwanee,” she says. “And then we’ve gone to the fitness park a few times, Hier’s Park, and we love to go to Evergreen Park. We’ve been there lots of times, and we’ve done the trail up by the Y. So we’ve been all over.”
The advantages of taking children on nature hikes are many, Tucker says, citing studies that show spending time outdoors helps elevate moods and combat depression, among other benefits.
“For my kids, personally, they tend to get along better outside, and be more curious and imaginative,” she adds. “There’s not so much distraction such as the TV or the computer or the phone when we’re outside, and so I get to see more of their personalities and what they like to do and explore when we’re outside.”
Tucker’s two boys, Ari, 6, and Miles, 4, often get the same things out of the hikes, but they each have their favorite ways of interacting with the environment. Ari knows the names of the different nuts found along the trails, and is familiar with different species of plants. Last summer he had a blast catching crawdads, frogs and turtles.
“It’s fun to see them learning about the world around them, and just getting the opportunity to explore,” Tucker says. “My youngest son loves cicadas. One year, we found 70 of those cicada shells, and we kept them in a box. It was kind of like, gross, but they just like bugs and frogs and stuff.”
Another Hike it Baby mom, Rachael Dettling, joined the Huntington Hike it Baby group last summer. Dettling is a mental health therapist by trade, and says it’s proven that kids are just happier and healthier when they have a lot of out-of-door time. But there are also some benefits for moms.
“It’s good for me, too,” she explains. “Our emotional, physical and psychological health is just better when we get outside. You can think of a reason not to – it’s too cold or it’s raining – but you can think of a reason not to every day. It’s good to have a group that supports just getting outside no matter what. It kind of motivates you to go.”
Dettling also enjoys the camaraderie and support among the parents who participate, often sharing advice and tips that help make hiking the parental trail a bit easier and more fun as well.
Hike it Baby chapters can be found in 47 states, the District of Columbia and six countries worldwide. More information about the Huntington Hike It Baby group and events can be found by joining the Fort Wayne group on its Facebook page, www.facebook.com/groups/hikeitbabyfortwayne or by visiting the organization’s website at hikeitbaby.com.