Health in Motion: A Chat with Hike It Baby Pittsburgh’s Caitlin Venczel
This article is fourth in a new series called Health in Motion brought you by Let’s Move Pittsburgh. Health in Motion is intended to showcase the efforts of schools and community organizations in the Pittsburgh region who are leading children to a healthier future. A new project with a guest author or interviewee will be featured each month. Let’s Move Pittsburgh hopes that Health in Motion will encourage leaders to adopt healthy programs in their communities and inspire readers to make healthy changes in their own lives.
Caitlin Venczel in the branch lead in Pittsburgh for Hike It Baby.
LMP: What is Hike It Baby?
Caitlin: Hike It Baby is group that focuses on getting families outside and active. The organization is originally out of Portland, started about three years ago by Shanti Hodges. Shanti had just had a baby and was itching to get outside. There were groups for moms with newborns but she couldn’t find any that also incorporated regularly being outdoors. So she started one, and it has taken off. There are now 160+ branches all across the United States and internationally. Nearly all of our events are hikes.The paces range from adult-paced, where everyone is babywearing, all the way to child-led where the child leads the way (we don’t get very far as we explore every leaf, stick, and puddle along the way). We also incorporate non-hiking events like playing at the park or apple-picking in the fall. Getting outdoors with babies and children comes with a different set of challenges, and because everyone that you’re hiking with is in a similar situation, the environment is very welcoming and supportive. Our hikes are free and don’t require an RSVP.
LMP: Tell us more about the Pittsburgh branch and how you’re involved with the organization. How many hikers meet throughout the year and how do people join?
Caitlin: The Pittsburgh branch was started about a year ago, a few months after I had my daughter, when I realized that I wanted, no…needed, to get out of the house. I wanted to hike but didn’t want to go alone, and I couldn’t find a group to hike with that was free and hiked as often as I was hoping to. I stumbled onto the main Hike It Baby organization during a search online and volunteered to open the Pittsburgh branch immediately. In addition to me, we now have two other branch leads, a ton of local hike leaders, and lots and lots of families that hike with us every week.
To join us on a hike, go to the Hike It Baby website and find the Pittsburgh branch hikes under "Find Your City." You’ll also be able to find our hiking waiver here, which needs to be signed by each participating adult prior to their first hike. You can also join our Facebook group; hike reminders are posted on the page, and we share photos of our hiking adventures. You can also find great tips to help you enjoy the outdoors (e.g. how to dress for winter fun). Additionally, once you hike with us once, you’re free to lead a Hike It Baby hike anywhere you want, at the time you want. If a hike works for your family, it’ll likely work for another family too!
LMP: Are there any new goals or developments on the horizon for Hike It Baby Pittsburgh?
Caitlin: In Pittsburgh specifically, we’re looking forward to getting more families outside this winter. We’re also really excited to incorporate snowshoeing into our hikes this year. On a larger scale, there will be an updated website and calendar coming in the New Year!
LMP: What has been the most rewarding part about being involved with Hike It Baby Pittsburgh?
Caitlin: My daughter, who is just starting to talk, asks to hike. It’s amazing! She loves to wave at the trees, pick up leaves, and play in the dirt. I see the same love of nature growing in the other children who hike with Hike It Baby.
LMP: How do you recommend families stay active during the colder months here in Pittsburgh?
Caitlin: Don’t feel like you have to be stuck inside. Instead of viewing winter as the “bad” season, embrace it! With the right winter clothes, being outside can not only be endured, but can be really fun. Many trails are still accessible during the winter months and you can also put on some yak trax or snowshoes to access icy or snowy trails. Though I was really nervous about hiking this past winter, it ended up being one of my favorites. I got outside more than ever and was able to really experience and enjoy the season. If you have questions about how to dress yourself or your child for winter play (how to keep your baby’s feet warm in a carrier, what kind of boots stay on a toddler, etc.), you can post a question on our Facebook page. We have many families that are able to give great suggestions.
LMP: Do you have any words of encouragement for families who are looking to be more active? Can you relate to their challenges?
Caitlin: I can definitely relate to it being challenging. It can feel impossible to fit in outdoor time. Or maybe you’re worried that the time it takes to get the family ready to go isn’t worth it. It is SO worth it. My advice is to make time to get outdoors. Start small. Take a neighborhood walk on the weekend. Go from there. Check out a new-to-you park or that trail near your house that you’ve been meaning to try. Getting outdoors is shown to decrease stress, so during stressful times (like the holidays) make it an even bigger priority.
LMP: Anything else about Hike It Baby Pittsburgh you’d like to share?
Caitlin: Our hikes range from one of the many trail-hikes tucked around Pittsburgh, to stroller-walks on paved loops, to meandering child-led hikes, and anywhere in between. Hikes are rated green/easy, blue/moderate, and black/difficult, but on a scale that’s accessible for young families. Our calendar has all sorts of information to help you decide on the right hike for you including terrain, length, location, if bathrooms are available, and if dogs are welcome on the trail, and more. As we move into winter, expect to see 3-5 hikes a week. Lots of opportunities to get outside! And remember, if you don’t see a hike near you, lead a hike!
LMP: You attended the Let’s Move Pittsburgh Symposium “5-2-1-0: The Formula for Healthy Families” on Nov. 12. What interested you about the event?
Caitlin: Though Hike It Baby is an international organization, each branch is locally grown and run by local volunteers. We live here and are invested in the Pittsburgh community, especially in regards to healthy families, so we were interested in seeing what others in the community were doing. It was awesome to see the different aspects of health that all of the individuals and organizations are working on.
LMP: How does Hike It Baby Pittsburgh promote healthy lifestyles here in Pittsburgh?
Caitlin: Our goal is to help support families in getting outdoors and active. We feel that children need to play outdoors, parents need support and community, and we all need fresh air and exercise. Hike It Baby is a fun way to incorporate all of those!