TRAVEL FEATURE - - LOUIS LA PLANTE

How to Survive Hiking With Children

In college, Erin Schmerr spent her time convincing her friends to volunteer. She was a real do-gooder type who knew how to encourage others without sounding obnoxiously smug. One of her most passionate pursuits was managing an after-school program in a disadvantaged Cincinnati, Ohio, neighborhood.

It surprised none of her friends that she turned her passion in college into a lifelong journey helping the less fortunate. Her charitable endeavors mainly focused on helping children in the city. But in early 2015, Schmerr planned a trip to Coalmont, Tenn. There, she helped children help an 80-year-old woman, who lived deep in the Appalachian Mountains. They would launch into renovation projects on the woman’s home that would help her age in place.

For one week, Schmerr was there, surrounded by Fraser fir trees, still bare after a cold winter. She was no roughneck, but damn it, she was going to build. And when she wasn’t building, she was going to hike. Schmerr learned many things that week, but most importantly, she learned when it comes to hiking with children, my god, you’ve got to have trust. This is how to hike with children:

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Select short distances. Schmerr had 13 kids, ages 13-17, in tow. With two parents on the trip, it seemed like manageable load. But Schmerr wanted to limit the risk of wandering off. After all their attention spans were short, their smartphones attached to their hands. So Schmerr selected the Stone Door area near Coalmont, where she found two paths, one with a waterfall, that could be kept under 30 minutes. By keeping the kids’ attention, you’ll keep the group together.

Hike at their pace, not yours. The idea here is that the children don’t overexert themselves. For Schmerr, it was a rule that almost overexerted her. The Stone Door path she selected had a steady incline and some steps along the way. “At one point, I remember thinking this is hundreds of steps,” she says, “but it was probably reasonable.”

Remember to pack snacks, bug spray, and the proper equipment--for everyone on the hike. It’s a pretty reasonable request that the adult take charge and bring supplies. Yet, there are so many ill-prepared adults in the world.

Give kids time for themselves on the trail. That’s not to say you should abandon them, but giving the children a little space allows them to have fun with their peers. Allowing them to feel comfortable with their like-minded cohorts creates an environment to, well, enjoy the environment. When Schmerr and the other adult supervisors took a moment to catch their breaths, the kids climbed atop a small overlook and reenacted the famous scene from The Lion King.

Trust the kids. In order to give the kids space, Schmerr and the parents had to trust the children. In no way does a hike work without trust.