Mangum Manor’s Rebecca Fiszer used to walk her dog or do yardwork as her primary form of exercise. Then, four years ago, a friend suggested she join a hiking group.
Fiszer joined several. Now she’s hooked.
Fiszer said it motivates her to meet up with people who like to hike. One such group, Houston Urban Trekkers, does hikes close to her home along the White Oak Bayou trail.
“People were so friendly,” she said. “Everybody talks. When you’re walking together, time flies by.”
John Czach, a co-founder of Houston Urban Trekkers who also volunteers at the Museum of Natural Science, said he and his wife exercised on equipment at home for many years. But once he was widowed, he wanted to alter his routine.
“I didn’t like tread milling in a big empty house (and) a neighbor suggested looking for things on meetup.com,” Czach said. “I found Houston Area Trails (HAT), and after years became an organizer with them.”
While HAT does longer hikes in places outside of Houston, Czach said Houston Urban Trekkers concentrates in and around the inner loop. There are walks, hikes and sometimes bike rides in Spotts Park, Memorial Park and elsewhere. Members join and communicate on Meetup.
“It’s nice to see a mix of regulars and new people. The mix is always changing a bit and we see people sometimes really hit it off,” Czach said. “But the main result just seems to be the shared experience of the walk itself. It’s mostly friends just keeping up with each other.”
Fiszer said she considers herself a shy person but felt comfortable her first time out with a hiking group.
Fiszer’s hiking groups have also opened her eyes to the natural spaces the area has to offer.
“There is so much I didn’t realize within an hour’s drive,” she said.
Another local group, Houston Women Hiking, was started as a closed Facebook group by area resident Bridgette Mongeon.
“I created it because I love the back trails in Memorial Park,” she said. “Not many people know they are back there, and so many women feel unsafe hiking alone. I can hardly believe we have grown to over 350 members. Not everyone comes out for a hike. I have posted hikes and ended up hiking alone, but then at other times we will have a group of 13.”
Mongeon said the ability of the hikers ranges from beginners to advanced.
“I always try to accommodate other people and their limitations,” she said. “Though we started in Memorial Park, people can post a hike anywhere. The idea is to meet women of the same interests. I have met some incredible women through the group and have felt supported through many life adventures while we commune with the woods.”
The science backs up the benefits of hiking.
“Research shows that hiking has a positive impact on combating the symptoms of stress and anxiety,” Dr. Gregory A. Miller of the American Hiking Society told WebMD.com. “Being in nature is ingrained in our DNA, and we sometimes forget that.”