How one enthusiast is getting more women out of the city and onto the trails.
It all started with a six-month trip on the Appalachian Trail in 2011.
Melissa Goodwin was raised an outdoor enthusiast, and when her father invited her on a rugged half-year journey to hike one of the most famous trails in the country, she didn’t think twice about joining him. She left her fiancé and her New York City apartment behind, and she and her father set out on the 2,192-mile path together, splitting up and reconnecting along the way so that they both got solo time on the trail as well.
It was during these travels alone that she began to notice the absence of other women. When she encountered other hikers, they often asked questions that she felt they would never have asked her male counterparts. Questions such as: Do you feel safe? How do you carry all that weight on your back? Are you carrying a weapon? How could you leave your fiancé for six months?
These concerns had not occurred to her, and the conversations she had stayed with her long after she and her father finished the trip.
The Appalachian Trail has a strong community of hikers that are known for looking out for each other. Women she had met along the way went on to become some of her best friends. After returning home from her life-altering trip, she wanted to recreate that sense of community she felt throughout her journey —something she was lacking back in her hectic city life.
But she also saw how few women had been out there with her. How could she make more women feel like they could do this type of outdoor exploration? How could she inspire her own friends to get out of New York City and into the outdoors?
“I’m a better person in the city when I get a chance to be out the city,” Goodwin noted.
She started out organizing regular hiking trips with girlfriends. The trips became increasingly popular and grew into a community that hikes with Goodwin regularly. With so much demand, Goodwin received a license as an outdoor guide from the state of New York and made a career out of her expertise and passion by founding Girl Gotta Hike, a business venture offering guided hiking and backpacking trips for women.
Goodwin aims to connect more women with, in her words, “nature, confidence and camaraderie.” Some of the most common reasons preventing women she’s encountered from getting outdoors have included:
- Being afraid to go alone
- Not knowing where to go or who to go with
- Feeling intimidated about not being able to keep up with a group
- Not considering themselves to be “outdoorsy”
She answers questions about what to wear, how to get to various trails without a car, when and what to eat, and other concerns, often reminding participants that hiking is really just walking. Goodwin specializes in getting groups of women from the city into the outdoors, including nearby national park sites, using public transportation.
“Many women have wanderlust for the woods but find that taking time for themselves in this era of over-connectedness is a challenge unto itself. By purposefully stepping outside and breathing in open air, I believe the mental and physical benefits of hiking help us to recharge,” Goodwin said.
NPCA partners with Girl Gotta Hike to better connect city dwellers to the outdoors, including the many national park sites that are accessible by New York City’s public transportation. Every year, NPCA and the Harlem Valley Appalachian Trail Community (HVATC) co-host Appalachian Trail Day in Harlem Valley, New York, where the Metro-North train stop intersects the trail. For the last two years, Goodwin’s group has supported NPCA’s trail-day efforts by teaching others how to pitch their own tents and sharing tips and tricks for overnight stays on the trail. In honor of Goodwin’s leadership to connect more women with the Appalachian Trail, NPCA and HVATC presented Girl Gotta Hike with a 2018 Public Access Award.
Goodwin now offers public-transit-accessible hikes once a month and continues to foster a strong community of women, giving them the confidence and skills to leave their fears behind.
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Within the next two years, Goodwin hopes to expand her hiking trips to sites throughout the Northeast and have an even stronger online community where she can answer some of the most common questions she receives. She also hopes she can continue to serve as a resource for women who want to get outdoors but don’t know where to start.
“I want to make those that are fearful not afraid,” she said. “I want to help more people feel like they could really do this.”
About the author
Alison Zemanski Heis Director, Communications, Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, Sun Coast, Mid-Atlantic, Texas
Alison Zemanski Heis joined NPCA in 2010 and leads communications outreach for the Midwest, Northeast and NPCA's national water work. She also leads the communications outreach strategy in support of NPCA’s corporate partnerships and celebrity engagement efforts.