On a snowy and blustery February day, a small group of walkers huddled together in coats, hats and scarves at the Greenwood airport.
While most people would be hustling to get out of the cold, they instead buttoned up their jackets, pulled on their gloves and turned towards the nearest paved trail, starting a five-mile walk.
“The hikes we do here in town are just to get together, get out and get exercise,” said Greenwood resident Mary Lang. “It’s better than sitting inside when the weather is bad. Unless it’s icy, we go.”
Even in the bitter cold of winter, the Indianapolis Hiking Club is ready to stretch their legs and put in their miles. The nearly 60-year-old central Indiana social organization is active in Johnson County year round, planning local hikes daily in parks, urban centers and suburban neighborhoods.
Central Indiana may not have the mountains, dense forests and craggy trails that are brought to mind when people think of hiking. But for members of the club, the chance to take in life at a more deliberate pace presents an opportunity to discover hidden gems.
“You get to see places on foot that you drive by all of the time,” said Mary Williams, a Bargersville resident and the club’s membership officer.
The Indianapolis Hiking Club was formed in 1957 by a group of local residents who enjoyed hiking and wanted to support trail maintenance projects. The founders wanted to encourage not only outdoor activity and recreation, but to help protect and appreciate the state’s natural areas.
By the end of its first year, the club had 82 members. Most recently, their roster included 570 people.
Last year, the club scheduled more than 2,000 hikes throughout the state and beyond. On any given day, members and interested hikers could find more than five hikes to take part in.
The schedule is posted every two months, providing an agenda of hiking chances in any part of Indianapolis and the surrounding counties. Walks are planned along the downtown canal, along the Monon Trail and through Crown Hill Cemetery.
“You can find some woods even within Indianapolis,” said John Gaebler, club president. “Fort Harrison and Eagle Creek give people the opportunity to be in the woods and hike hills.”
Members also engineer hikes in local neighborhoods done primarily on sidewalks and pavement. This urban hiking offers the fitness advantages of being active while exposing people to new settings.
In addition to local hikes, organizers plan visits to the far-off corners of Indiana for longer excursions. To celebrate the state’s bicentennial, the club has scheduled hikes in each of the 25 state parks in 2016.
For those who enjoy travel, multi-day trips to locales such as Tucson, Arizona, and Palm Harbor, Florida, are available too.
“I would be fearsome of getting lost if I was out there hiking these with just my wife,” Gaebler said. “But if I’m there with several other people who can operate the GPS and who have walked the trails there, all of the sudden it’s not so scary.”
Lang joined the club after her kids were adults as a way to get some exercise. That was 36 years ago, and she looks back on it as one of the best decisions she’s made.
“It’s filled with great people. It doesn’t matter if you’re single or married or divorced, you can get out and meet great people,” she said. “With the club I’ve been to every state park and state forests in Indiana. There’s a lot of beautiful places to see.”
Williams started hiking after her husband died. She found the club online, and was interested in the social aspect of its activities.
“I had been walking before, but never with a group of other people,” she said. “The hiking club was a perfect fit — it’s social, but it gives you exercise and you get to meet fantastic people.”
Through the club, Williams has discovered aspects of the city that she otherwise would never have been to by herself. She regularly hikes the hilly trails at Eagle Creek Park, has been to little-known green spaces such as Holliday Park in Indianapolis and explored neighborhoods in downtown Indianapolis and Carmel.
One of her favorite aspects of the club is its flexibility and wealth of opportunities to participate, Williams said.
“If you can do it that day, you do it. If you can’t, you don’t have to call somebody to make an excuse. You show up, sign in and go,” she said.
The club blends avid hikers and outdoors enthusiasts with older adults who are no longer able to run marathons or bike dozens of miles, but still want to be active.
Gaebler joined the group for a combination of those aspects.
“I enjoy being outdoors, and as an amateur artist, I can take pictures throughout the year for landscapes that I do,” he said. “I’m old enough that I don’t do running anymore, and am a little more cautious when I bicycle.”
The draw of the club is its balance of social and fitness-minded activities, Gaebler said.
On Super Bowl Sunday, a hike in Franklin tackled six miles of the city’s Greenway Trail. But afterwards, more than 20 people came back to Williams’ house for a pitch-in dinner and viewing party.
Hikes have been organized around book clubs, farmers markets and worship services.
“To go walking by yourself for a couple of hours gets boring after a while,” he said. “To be able to do that with eight or 10 other people, be able to switch off to who you talk to, makes the walking experience more pleasurable.”
The club is open to anybody, and people can attend hikes without joining and becoming a member.
Participants suggest trying a few different events to see if they like it for themselves.
“Come out and try it. And try more than one — some are fast, slow, some meander through neighborhoods, some are very rugged. Long, short, everything,” Lang said. “There’s something for everyone.”
February and March
YMCA Neighborhood: 9:15 a.m. through February and March; Meet in the parking lot on at the south entrance to Baxter YMCA, 7900 Shelby St., Indianapolis. This will be a neighborhood walk of 5 to 6 miles; contact Mary Lang, 509-8251.
Greenwood Park Mall: 6 p.m. through February and March; sign in at the food court between 6 and 7:30 p.m. for a self-guided walk of up to 6 miles with shorter options. Walk will be outside if weather is nice; contact Crowder, 859-8159.
Beech Grove: 6 p.m. through February; meet at southeast corner of Emerson and Churchman in Beech Grove in the Churchman Hill Plaza for a 5-mile hike; contact David Kincaid, 787-6593 or 864-9574.
Southport Park: 9:15 a.m. through February and March; meet at 6901 Derbyshire Road, Indianapolis; an 8-mile hike with an approximate 3 mile per hour pace; contact Glee Crowder, 859-8159
Greenwood Park Mall: 6 p.m. through February and March; sign in at the food court between 6 and 7:30 p.m. for a self-guided walk of up to 6 miles with shorter options.
Greenwood Afternoons: 1 p.m. through February and March; a 5-mile hike meeting at the Greenwood Airport; contact Mary Lang, 509-8251, or Rick Kinnaman, 407-9746.
Greenwood Park Mall: 8 a.m. through February; sign in at the food court for a self-guided walk through the mall; contact Crowder, 859-8159.
Westside Park, Greenwood: 8:30 a.m. every Saturday in March; an 8-mile walk with a 5-mile option in parks and neighborhoods in Greenwood, contact Glee Crowder, 859-8159.
Hill Valley East: 2 p.m. March 26; Meet in parking lot for Baxter YMCA for a neighborhood hike of 6 miles with a 5-mile option; contact David Kincaid, 787-6593 or 864-9574.
Indianapolis Hiking Club
What: A social club that meets dozens of times at locations throughout the week to hike in natural and urban settings.
How to get involved: Go to indyhike.org and choose a hike that looks right for them. People don’t need to be a member to participate, but if they want to join, annual costs are $20 for an individual or $30 for a family.