Latest posts by Nadine Champsi (see all)
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In the dead of last winter, I got an email that reminded me of sunshine and springtime. “Want to go on a hike with your kids and some other Pittsburgh parents?” the sender wrote. A hike? In the winter? Although I love to hike a lot, I hate cold more…so I declined. But I was intrigued. Who was this adventurous soul leading hikes with kids in the most challenging of seasons?
Shortly afterwards I learned that the email came from Caitlin Venczel, a fun and energetic Pittsburgh mom who recently started the Hike It Baby Pittsburgh group. An archeologist by training, Caitlin is now a stay-at-home mom to her young daughter. Like many of us, her professional path definitely changed directions after having her daughter–but not her archaeologist’s spirit of adventure. She is determined to unite Pittsburgh families through free, inclusive, kid-friendly hiking in the city, woods, museums and basically anywhere else that curiousity takes them. And I love the idea. Not only is she helping families connect with each other and our beautiful city, she’s also helping them get outdoors and lead healthier lifestyles.
I recently had the chance to interview Caitlin about Hike It Baby Pittsburgh. Here’s what I found out:
What is Hike It Baby Pittsburgh?
Hike it Baby (HIB) is a new parents group focused on getting families outside and active. Hiking with babies and children comes with a different set of challenges and because everyone that you’re hiking with is in the same situation, it’s a very supportive environment. We have a motto – leave no mama (or papa, or baby, or anyone for that matter) behind. We’ve got you.
What sorts of hikes do you do?
We do all kinds – gorgeous trail hikes, urban hikes, fast-paced hikes for parents wanting some catch-your-breath exercise, slower-paced toddler or kid-led hikes and many more. We’re also hoping to get bike rides organized, as well as swim outings, Jog it Baby, Hike it Baby picnics and maybe even a camping trip!
We try to hike all over the city and beyond. Of course, we frequent Pittsburgh’s many spectacular city parks. We’ve done riverfront hikes, hikes in the north and the south and segments of popular trails like the Rachel Carson trail, the Montour Trail and the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. If there’s a trail, we’ll hike it! And even if there’s not. Does walking in the Strip and sampling food count as hiking? In my book, yes.
What are the lengths of hikes? Difficulty levels?
Our hikes are rated as green/easy, blue/moderate or black/difficult. What might be a black for a super serious hiker (summiting mountains or hiking the Appalachian Trail) is very different than what we consider a black. We rate our hikes using a newly postpartum mama as our baseline. How would a mama joining us with a six week old feel about doing this hike? We want to make our hikes accessible to everyone!
They are all posted to our website’s Hike it Baby calendar where we also have wonderful information regarding the trail (length, location, level, etc.), whether strollers will work, if it’s good for little toddling legs or if strong walkers are recommended for that particular trail. It also has information on if bathrooms/changing tables are available, if dogs are welcome on the trails and many other details. We try to be very clear on the hike level and exactly what to expect on the trail so you’re able to make the best decision for yourself and your family about going on a hike.
When are your hikes held?
Right now we have about three to four hikes a week but I’d love to see that increase. As for hike times, we try to have hikes at different times during the week and on the weekend to accommodate different schedules. Sometimes the hike time is dictated by the weather. For instance, in the winter we tried to hike during the warmest part of the day and in the summer we’ll start pushing the hikes earlier to avoid the mid-day heat. Even with weather restrictions, there’s still room for variation.
How much does it cost to be a part of Hike It Baby?
Hike it Baby is 100% free. Our hikes are always free and will always be free. The only time something may cost is if parking has a fee, or if we visit Phipps or the Zoo and they have an entrance fee. And if that is the case, it is clearly marked on the Hike it Baby calendar so there are no surprises.
Is this group just for moms?
Everyone is welcome on Hike it Baby hikes. We say “mom, dad, nanny, and granny” are welcome, and more! And so far, we do see a great mix of the whole family coming out to hike. We tend to see more moms hiking solo during the week, but on the weekends it’s much more of a mixed crowd.
Why did you start Hike It Baby Pittsburgh?
After I had my daughter Henrietta in July 2014, I was looking around for a hiking group that was baby/kid-friendly. It’s super intimidating (or at least it was for me) to get out and go hiking with a baby, let alone doing it by myself. I wanted to go with a group, but one that would understand if my baby was having a cry or needed to stop to eat or had a diaper situation on the trail. I also couldn’t find anything that had hikes that were free and happened as often as I wanted to get out.
I was just about to start a Meet-up group when I stumbled onto the national Hike it Baby program. It was serendipity! We found out about Hike it Baby in October 2014, talked about the fact that if we started the Pittsburgh branch immediately then we’d have to hike through the winter and decided to go for it! I’m so glad we did because Hike it Baby has already had a major impact on our lives. We’re getting regular exercise and seeing results (yay!), we’ve met amazing people, and we’ve seen this AWESOME community start to form. I see so much support happening on the trail between parents – it’s pretty powerful.
After interviewing Caitlin it was clear to me that she has superpowers. A baby? Organizing three to four hikes per week? Trekking all over the city? I was impressed by her energy and passion.
It also became clear to me that she’s a very innovative thinker. Hike It Baby Pittsburgh redefines the traditional weekday AM, mom-only playgroup. I like to think of it as a 21st century version–where dads (and other caregivers) are welcome, where health is a priority and where we never lose our sense of adventure–even after our babies join the family!
Interested in becoming a part of Hike It Baby Pittsburgh or learning more? Join their Facebook group page or see their calendar of upcoming hikes.