Hiking Around Midstate PA: A community blog

Explore hiking trails, environmental issues, recreational funding challenges and trail maintenance in Central Pennsylvania with Jim Foster.

Hiking The Trail Virtually, part 2

Written by Jim Foster, Community blogger | Jul 30, 2012 2:35 PM

Several weeks ago, I posted a blog entry entitled “Hiking The Trail Virtually”.  There, I talked about some interesting videos available on the internet that will allow you to (sort of) experience the Appalachian Trail virtually.  This time I’m going to talk about some online resources that you can use to find and enjoy group trail experiences.

Meetup.com is an internet application that helps groups of people with shared interests plan group events in local communities.  These group events are called “meetups”.  These groups generally are formed to engage in some activity, such as cooking, dining out, knitting, socializing or some form of outdoor activity.  According to the meetup.com website, there more than ten million people have joined a meetup group and there are more than 95,000 meetup groups around the world.

A person who wishes to join a meetup group can first get on to the internet site www.meetup.com. There, he or she can search for groups that cover the particular region where the person lives and engage in the particular activities that interest her or him.  Once they find a meetup group that looks promising, the person then applies for membership in that group.  The persons in charge of the group, called the Organizers, will approve the application, and then the new member can search within the group for a particular meetup activity that interests him or her, and sign up for it.  There are also forums available to group members where issues can be discussed and questions can be asked and answered.  Many meetup groups charge a nominal fee (perhaps $1.00) to each person who attends a particular event, to offset the costs of running the organization.  Others assess a small annual fee.

A large number of meetup groups have been formed to engage in hiking, backpacking and other outdoor pursuits.  Some outdoor organizations that have been around for a long time have formed their own meetup groups to supplement their non-virtual activities.  One example of this is the Appalachian Mountain Club, one of the nation’s largest trail and hiking organizations.  Other meetup groups are independent of any other organizations.  I’m going to discuss two independent meetup groups active in our local region.  These are Day Hikers of Central PA and South Central PA Backpackers.

As the name indicates, Day Hikers was established to organize group hikes lasting only a day or less, in other words, not involving overnight trips.  My friend Trisha organized Day Hikers in 2009.  While Trisha is still very actively involved, our mutual friend Dawn is now the Organizer.  Since it was founded, Day Hikers has grown to over 600 members who have conducted over 240 individual meetup events.  On average, Day Hikers has about two meetup events each week.  These range from very easy hikes of three or four miles over easy terrain suitable for beginners and children to very strenuous twenty mile hikes over challenging terrain suitable to only the most fit and determined hikers. HERE is a direct link to the Day Hikers site.

South Central PA Backpackers was established by Kimsan and Stacey in 2008.  The group currently has over 240 members who have conducted over 140 separate backpacking events.  This group emphasizes backpacking, which means going hiking with a larger pack that contains everything one will need to spend the night on the trail, then hiking on again the next day.  However, the Backpackers group also conducts some “slackpacking” trips.  This generally means that the group will drive with its gear to a campsite and set up camp.  Each day, they will hike with just the gear needed for the day, and then meet vehicles at the end of the day which will transport them back to the base camp.  HERE is a direct link to the South Central PA Backpackers site.

As with Day Hikers, these trips range from relatively easy overnight trips over easy terrain suitable for beginning backpackers to very strenuous events of several days duration.  The backpackers group has several experienced backpackers who are willing to advice beginners on how to acquire the necessary gear as well as lead them on “Backpacking 101” events.

These two groups are by no means the only good meetup groups in Central PA that organize hiking, backpacking and other outdoor activities.  A couple of others you might consider are York Outdoor Adventurers and Keystone Hikers.

Many of us involved in traditional trails organizations such as hiking and trail maintaining clubs find that our memberships are growing older and it is becoming harder to attract new members in the 20 and 30 something age demographic.  These meetup groups seem to be much more attractive to the younger generations.  This is probably because they integrate the outdoor experience with some of the newer communication tools such as online forums, virtual signups, and tie-ins to social media.  All of that said, many of the most active members of meetup groups are in the older demographic.

If you’ve been itching to try hiking, backpacking or a similar outdoor pursuit, but don’t know where to find a group to get started, I urge you to try one of these groups.

Published in Hiking Around Midstate PA and Beyond: A community blog

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