Carolyn Hartfield didn’t grow up loving nature.
In fact, it took her more than half a century to realize that she enjoyed few things more than being outdoors–walking through, smelling, seeing and touching nature.
Now Hartfield, formerly from Detroit who now resides in DeKalb County, is sharing her love of the natural environment with as many people as she can.
The self-proclaimed “Hiking Lady” along with her good friend Paulette Scott leads hikes at various locations throughout the state, usually held on the first Saturday of the month. A week ago, they held their fourth Annual Super Bowl Hike on the Saturday before the big game at Arabia Mountain. This one was a 20-mile hike.
“I hope that they are really connected with the environment,” said Hartfield of those she leads. “I do believe it’s a special kind of spiritual connection you can get.”
Hartfield, who is 62 and went on her first hike when she was 56, found that first experience so enthralling that she kept joining regular hikes with a newcomers’ group and eventually took classes to be a group leader. When her hiking mentor was unable to continue leading hikes due to employment changes, Hartfield was tapped to take over.
Now she seeks to share outdoor experiences with others, particularly African Americans, who she said simply don’t spend enough time experiencing nature.
She launched Hartfields Hikers in June 2009, taking 30 people on a hike of Providence Canyon in Lumpkin. She’s not only pleased that the hikes consistently attract 20-25 hikers but that several of the participants have embraced it to the extent that they’ve gone to the Sierra Club’s leadership training.
Participants are informed of each hike’s length, whether it’s easy/moderate/strenuous and what they should bring. Hartfield said hikers are encouraged to move at their own pace, and Scott serves as the group’s “sweeper,” taking up the rear and ensuring that no one is left behind. And before each hike Hartfield or Scott scouts the route—even if they’ve hiked it previously—to note any changes in the trail and the area. After convening at a local spot, the group forms a circle and members introduce themselves, then Hartfield and Scott discuss weather conditions and go over details of the day’s adventure. They then carpool to the hike site.
“Every time we have first timers,” explained Hartfield. “We tell them we are as fast as the slowest person. [Scott] stays in the back so they don’t feel pressure.”
Hartfield and Scott are certified by the Sierra Club as outings leaders, and Hartfield has undergone additional training through the Wilderness Medical Institute in wilderness first aid.
They stay in touch with their regular hikers and those new to the activity through an online newsletter and a new website (www.hartfieldshikers.com).
This spring Hartfield and Scott plan to launch a midweek activity that they are tentatively calling a Wonderful Wilderness Walk, designed for those who are 46 and older. They are also planning to scout a new location in North Carolina. Other plans in 2011 include hikes and overnight stays at Len Foote Hike Inn at Amicalola Falls State Park in Dawsonville.
Hartfield has incorporated her passion for the environment into her vacations and getaways. In February, she took part in a beach clean-up on Cumberland Island that was sponsored by the Georgia Conservancy and REI, which she called a combination of “fun, fitness and friendship.”
She helped clear trails and cut leaves from palm trees.
“I had the most marvelous time,” said Hartfield describing camping in 20- 30-degree weather with a bright moon overhead. “It was enjoyable work.”