Citizen Scholar: Hike it Baby!

In my first semester at Virginia Tech, I was enrolled in GRAD 5204 Citizen Scholar Seminar with Dr. Rosemary Blieszner. Each of the students in the course were required to develop a community engagement service project to be deployed either concurrently with the course or soon after course completion. The prompt was open-ended so each student would have the freedom to develop a project they felt passionately about.

For me, the real challenge was wrapping my mind around the engagement component. As a first year, first semester Ph.D. student who had only just moved to the New River Valley area a couple of weeks before the start of the term, I had no clue at first how to engage with my new community. For the first two months in the area, I could only find my apartment, Virginia Tech campus, and the grocery store without getting lost. I hadn’t made any friends outside of my cohort yet and I was clueless where to begin trying to create connections within the greater Christiansburg-Blacksburg area.

Around the time that I got started at Tech, I also reconnected with a friend from childhood who told me about Hike it Baby! (HiB) as a way to connect outdoors with other families with young children. HiB operates at the national scale, where members can look up hikes around them and join others–whether at home or on vacation! Virginia has 5 chapters of HiB; the closest to us being in Roanoke. As a practice, HiB does not like to have chapters within about a 30-mile radius of each other and so for us in the New River Valley (NRV), we are technically close enough to be part of the Roanoke chapter, but perhaps not close enough for it to be convenient for some members of the community I am trying to connect in the NRV. It is my hope that through continued participation in HiB that an active group will emerge in the NRV and might one day create a need for their own chapter to serve the local community in our area.

So for my project, I decided I would work towards the goal of creating a NRV chapter of HiB that will continue to function as a social group even after my child ages out of the program.

A picture of my daughter and her friend on a recent hike to Falls Ridge Preserve in Blacksburg, VA. It can be difficult to get outdoors sometimes–especially in winter–but it is a lot of fun once you get out of the house and out into nature!

Project Description: What is Hike it Baby?

Hike it Baby! is a national non-profit organization that utilizes an online-based platform to connect families and provide them with opportunities to get outside to enjoy nature.

Hosts design hiking events and lead families through the experience. Hikes are casual and range from urban to wild, with varying challenge levels and levels of access.

To promote an inclusive environment, my HiB events will vary so that there is at least one paved, ADA accessible hike and one natural hike planned each month.

Hike it Baby Values:

  1. Leave no hiker behind
  2. Develop community
  3. No judgement
  4. Respect nature
  5. Inspiring self-care


  1. Uphold the Hike it Baby mission: build a community that is supportive of getting families outside
  2. Lead 2 group hikes per month (1 all-terrain; 1 inclusive and ADA accessible)
  3. Participate in/lead 4 HiB30 challenges per year
  4. Develop a sense of community and ownership in other participants, encourage and inspire others to host events, and engage other families to become local HiB leaders as well

Target Audience:

  • Existing members of the Roanoke HiB Chapter
  • Families of Virginia Tech & Radford U faculty/staff/students
  • Families in the NRV area


  • Hike it Baby! National Non-Profit
  • Roanoke Chapter HiB
  • VT Parent Support Group

*plan to establish more partners and sponsors throughout the year as we gain momentum and are able to reach further into and throughout the community

Key Disciplinary Concepts:

  1. Social Justice & Scholarship
    1. Platform open to any/all interested participants with birth to school-aged children
    2. Diversity in planned events to be inclusive of all activity levels and physical abilities
  2. Engagement from local to national level
    1. Open and accessible to VT students/family/staff
    2. Open and accessible to NRV families
    3. Open and accessible to area visitors, connection with nationwide network of HiB chapters, communities, and outdoor recreation opportunities
  3. Communicating Scholarly Research Findings
    1. Special Events and opportunities for participants to engage with academics, professionals, and experts
    2. Shared knowledge and introduction to VT Extension resources
  4. Broader Impacts of Scholarship
    1. Introduce children and families to STEM and Landscape Architecture concepts “on the trail”
    2. Provide a safe environment for play, learning, and exploration of nature
    3. Create an opportunity for community members locally and connect members with events through the organization on a national level
  5. Ethics and Professional Behavior
    1. Outdoor recreation to teach ethics, professional behavior, and leadership skills
    2. Outdoor recreation opportunities used as tools to engage community with surrounding landscape

Hikes by Class:

  1. City Parks
  2. City Nature Trails
  3. Historic Downtowns
  4. College Campus Open Spaces & Natural Areas
  5. Paved Paths/Trails
  6. State Parks & Trails

Challenge ratings vary from easy to moderate with options for more difficult hikes.

Special Events:

  • All Access
  • Animal Hunt: Bring a Stuffed Animal
  • Toddler Waddle
  • Bike it Baby
  • Altitude
  • Stroller Hikes
  • Expecting Parent Hikes
  • New Parent Hikes
  • BYOT: Bring Your Own Truck
  • National Trails Day (First Saturday in June)
  • HiB30 Challenge

Outreach & Engagement:

  • Hikes & Descriptions are posted to
  • Utilize social media (Facebook) to engage existing and new community members
  • Connect local HiB families with university resources & knowledge through engagement with faculty and special event hikes

Gear Demos & Activities:

  1. For Parents & Caregivers
    1. Sponsored Hiking Gear Demosntrations
    2. Baby Wearing Techniques
    3. Trail Etiquette
    4. Hiking Skills & Awareness
    5. Field Guide Training
    6. Accessing Free Educational Smartphone Apps
    7. Information about Local Resources
  2. For Kids:
    1. How to use binoculars
    2. How to use a compass
    3. Ways to use bandanas
    4. Scavenger hunt
    5. Trail bingo
    6. Categories
    7. ABC’s
    8. Eye Spy
    9. Sound & Listening Games
    10. Nature Detective

Citizen Scholar Engagement at Virginia Tech

In Spring 2017, my project was recognized by the Vice President and Dean of Graduate Education, Dean DePauw, and it/I was given the Citizen Scholar designation for the work. We are hosting hikes and meeting new friends every month! Visit the Hike it Baby! website to find us and join us on our excursions.

Lilah joined me for the award ceremony last spring. She wasn’t the only baby there, though! (Photograph credit: Virginia Tech Graduate School.) 


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