Moab woman hikes 2,650 miles to raise money for groups that help kids experience nature
Oct 10, 2013 | 2116 views | 0 0 comments | 175 175 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Kate Niederehe poses for a photo as she crosses the Oregon-Washington border during her 2,650-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. Courtesy photo
Kate Niederehe poses for a photo as she crosses the Oregon-Washington border during her 2,650-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. Courtesy photo
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A Moab woman is on a mission to hike the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail to raise money for two nonprofit groups that encourage youth to connect with nature.

The Pacific Crest Trail, one of the original National Scenic Trails, begins in southern California at the Mexican border and ends at the border between Washington and Canada. Kate Niederehe, 31, began her hike in Campos, Calif., on May 8.

She said she chose the trail because of the “expansive views and numerous ecosystems” it offers. Niederehe hopes to reach the end of the trail by mid-October at the U.S.-Canada border, north of Seattle.

Since beginning her journey, Niederehe has already hiked more than 2,200 miles, and crossed from Oregon into Washington in late September. Originally from Maryland, Niederehe now lives in Moab and sometimes works as a staff member for Canyonlands Field Institute (CFI).

Niederehe’s project, “Hiking To Get Kids Outside,” is intended to “build awareness for the need to keep children and youth exploring and experiencing the natural world,” according to a news release. Additionally, she is asking for donations that will be divided evenly between Moab’s CFI and City Kids Wilderness Project, based in Washington, D.C. Niederehe has worked for both groups in the past.

An outdoor education specialist, Niederehe says her experiences have proven that connecting children and youth with nature helps them to stay active, inspires curiosity, and, ultimately, helps them to feel empowered and to gain perspective.

“Encounters in the natural world can foster personal growth and joy in life,” she said. “I have seen it happen.”

The months-long hike was inspired, she said, by concerns that today’s young people are less likely to spend time in nature.

“Our society is changing,” Niederehe said. “I fear a growing disconnect between young people and the natural world.”

Niederehe cited a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study, which concludes that children age 8 to 18 spend more than 52 hours per week using electronic devices.

“Children are now watching nature programs on television rather than experiencing it themselves,” she said.

Richard Louv, author of the best-selling “Last Child in the Woods,” has coined the term nature-deficit disorder to describe the phenomenon. His book started a grassroots effort to bring nature back into childrens’ lives.

Niederehe says her hike along the Pacific Crest Trail has changed her life. She recalled a tough 4,500-foot climb in California. To avoid the heat of the day, she began the climb at 5 p.m. She hiked six miles to the first water source and as she rounded a bend on the trail, witnessed a spectacular sunset.

“I almost cried from the beauty,” Niederehe said. “The hard work to make it to that view was worth it. All the pain that I’d endured on the trail to that point was worth it. It was unbelievable. Covered in goose bumps I filled up my water bottle and continued hiking into the dark for another two miles. I camped on a ridge-line saddle and got rained on by large thunderstorms all night.” 

Some hiking experiences, however, require skill and fortitude. While hiking over the July 4 holiday, Niederehe climbed seven miles up and over Pinchot Pass in the Sierras. On the way down from the pass, heavy weather moved in, pummeling her with rain and grape-sized hail. Niederehe quickly sought shelter, hiding behind a rock for 45 minutes then rushed a mile downhill to a somewhat sheltered area,where she set up her tent. Cold and shivering, she huddled under the tent for two hours. Then the storm let up and she continued hiking another three miles.

Niederehe’s pack weighs 48 pounds when loaded with necessary gear, six days of rations and one liter of water. She said the most difficult part of the hike is finding strength to hike through the pain, listen to her body and avoid pushing too hard and injuring herself.

While Niederehe’s goal is to reconnect children and their families with nature, she is not suggesting that such rigorous hiking is the only way to build a relationship with the outdoors, according to the news release.

“Sitting quietly and observing, or even just having fun swimming in a lake or the ocean will help connect children with nature,” she said. “My hope is for everyone to find a connection somewhere on earth and then work to take care of it.”

For more information about Niederehe’s journey or to donate to her cause, go to www.hikingtogetkidsoutside.org.

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