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Jessica Featherstone is no stranger to hiking around the Milwaukee area. Near the end of her pregnancy with her daughter, she tried hiking in an attempt to get labor started. Although it didn't work, Featherstone continued those hikes with her daughter, Sky, as a way to get outside and stay active once she was born.

So when Featherstone heard about Hike It Baby last spring, she knew it was a perfect match.

'When Sky and I started getting outside, I was worried about what to bring, where to go, how long to go and so many different variables. With all of the unknowns, I find that having a group of people to get outside with gives me a sense of security,' she said.

Started by a Portland mom in 2013, Hike It Baby is now a national network of parents and caregivers in more than 200 communities. Branch leaders and participants organize hikes and walks nearly every day as a way to build community and enjoy the outdoors.

Using hikeitbaby.com, parents can find a hike or walk that suits their needs. Whether it's hiking the Ice Age Trail or strolling Milwaukee's lakefront, there is a hike for all abilities. Anyone also can organize a hike.

'Hike it Baby creates this platform for families. One of the principles of Hike it Baby is to leave no family behind. If someone needs to stop to change a diaper, feed a child, tie the shoes of a toddler or allow a preschooler time to explore, we stop,' said Featherstone, who is a lead organizer of Milwaukee's Hike It Baby. 'Since all hikes are free - the only cost is entry fees to different parks - it's a great way to get out of the house and meet other parents. So many of the principles of Hike it Baby are kid friendly, so it makes it easy for families to get outside.'

Milwaukee's Hike It Baby, which started in spring 2015, has grown rapidly. The group's Facebook page has about 900 members. There also is a Waukesha branch, with about 275 members.

On a recent hike at Lapham Peak in Delafield, the two groups met together on a recent Saturday morning for a hike along the Kame Terrace Trail, which features gentle hills, grass paths and a butterfly garden. With kids ranging in age from baby up to 6, this was a child-led hike, with a slow pace and plenty of time for kids to explore and adults to socialize.

Many parents with younger children used carriers to strap their children to their fronts or backs, including Stephanie Russ, who is one of the Waukesha branch leaders. She began participating in hikes last September when her youngest child turned 5-weeks-old.

'It encouraged me to get out and moving with my baby as soon as I felt able and helped tremendously with my physical and emotional postpartum recovery,' Russ said.

The Milwaukee/Waukesha groups also are planning a summer camping trip, with hikes, swimming, fishing, bonfires and more at the Kettle Moraine Northern Unit in July.

'It's exercise and social companionship with other adults that I can do on a regular basis with three children under my care, and it's teaching my kids a love and appreciation for the outdoors. Win win!' Russ said.■

Liz Paulsen is the editor of Metroparent.

GET INVOLVED

Join a hike:

Find an upcoming hike in and around

Milwaukee and Waukesha at hikeitbaby.com.

Join the Facebook groups:

facebook.com/groups/hikeitbabymilwaukee

facebook.com/groups/hikeitbabywaukesha

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