Annie Fortunato leads a gaggle of families with children along the gravel path past the rushing Huron River to the Arb’s golden prairie. Fortunato, who has a degree in environmental studies and works in a childcare center, has always considered herself outdoorsy. When a relative told her about Hike It Baby, she knew she had to start a branch in Ann Arbor. She’s now the Ann Arbor area ambassador for Hike It Baby.
Leading the Ann Arbor group was a natural fit for Fortunato, given her background as a teacher. “Nature education has always been a passion. Before I was a mom I was an educator at a marine science camp,” she says. Fortunato’s now six-year-old son, was a toddling three-year-old when they first started Hike It Baby Ann Arbor. Her family is excited to welcome a new sibling in the fall.
Fortunato’s favorite thing about Hike It Baby is the incredible group of friends she has made through the group: “I just love the community. I’ve met my entire social network through Hike It Baby!”
What’s your favorite hike in Washtenaw County & why?
My favorite is the Arb because you can make it as difficult or easy as you want. It’s very diverse with the river and the prairie. I can get any hike I want there.
What’s your favorite local museum?
We like going to the Matthaei Botanical Gardens in the winter to get all the smells in the conservatory. You walk in and it boosts your mood.
What is your favorite post-hike treat?
Our family always hikes on Sunday morning at the Arb, and our favorite place afterwards is the Lunch Room for their vegan biscuits and gravy.
What pro tips do you have for first-time hikers?
Come with a positive attitude. Not all hikes are going to be awesome– you’ll forget diapers, or your kid will have a meltdown.
Hike It Baby 101
A hiking club offering guided hikes to families, Hike It Baby seeks to get children, from birth to school age, outdoors. Adults in the group are often moms, but dads, nannies, and grandparents are also frequent participants.
Fortunato points out that the group uses the term “hike” loosely. “Some hikes are on paved trails, like Gallup Park. The Arb has very well taken care of trails that are stroller accessible. We also do bike-and-plays and park-and-plays,” she says.
Hikers do not need fancy gear to join; a bottle of water and supportive shoes are the only supplies each hiker needs. “We have a loaner baby carrier available on all hikes that people can use to make the hike accessible to all hikers,” she says. Her pro tip: bring “snacks to bribe the kids to keep going!”
Families keep coming back for more because of the strong community that the group offers. “Everybody comes on hikes for different reasons– being active, social, and so their children experience the outdoors,” Fortunato says. “The outdoors brings them all together.”