Charissa Hipp and Julia hike the Appalachian Trail

Nurturing the Need for Nature

The Founder of Girls Who Hike Maryland Shares Her Love for the Outdoors with Others through Writing, Photography, and Hitting the Trail.

Charissa Hipp Age 44, Williamsport, MD | TheNaturePrescription.com

By Kate Rader

Charissa Hipp has spent her life and career connecting with the beauty of nature. Founder of The Nature Prescription, she combines her love of nature and the outdoors with her tourism marketing and writing background.

In her new role as director of marketing and communications for the C&O Canal Trust, and throughout her more than 20 years in the tourism industry, Charissa assists people as they explore the region. As a park ranger at Antietam Battlefield, she helped to interpret its rich natural history. In the National Park Service public affairs office at the Department of the Interior, she interfaced with national news media and compiled daily news briefs. And in her roles at tourism bureaus in both Washington and Frederick Counties, the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area, and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, she led marketing initiatives to expand awareness of the area’s many natural and historical treasures. 

A wife and mother of three to Christian, 20, Owen, 18, and Julia, 6, Charissa continues to share her journey of exploration as a freelance writer, nature photographer, and founder of Girls Who HikeTM Maryland, a private Facebook group with over 6,000 members that share a common enthusiasm for hiking. 

WiYNN magazine had the chance to catch up with Charissa and learn more about her passion for nature-centric experiences. We welcome her as our very first “WiYNN Neighbor.”

Turkey Tail fungus spotted while hiking the Appalachian Trail. Photo: Charissa Hipp

Nature reveals her beauty in this Turkey Tail fungus spotted while hiking the Appalachian Trail. Photo: Charissa Hipp

How do you share your love for the outdoors?

My time with the NPS sparked a lifelong love of parks, history, and the outdoors, and now I share this passion as a hiker leader, nature therapy guide, writer, and nature photographer, contributing to publications in print and online like MarylandRoadsTrips.com. I use Instagram to “scrapbook” my outdoor adventures and am a guest host on the Jester Section Hiker Podcast on the Hiking Radio Network.

How did your love for hiking begin?

Right around when my daughter Julia was born, I began taking walks along the C&O Canal to enjoy nature and take pictures. I found it to be therapeutic. Then I started getting in the miles. 

Girls Who Hike at Weverton Cliffs, part of the Appalachian Trail. Photo: Julianna Teuscher Marten.

Girls Who Hike enjoy the camaraderie of a sunset hike at Weverton Cliffs, part of the Appalachian Trail. Photo: Julianna Teuscher Marten.

How was Maryland’s Girls Who Hike chapter started? 

Established in California in early 2016, Girls Who Hike was created by hiker Sharron McBride to connect women with other women who wanted to hit the trails together. Quickly expanding, the concept spread across the nation. 

I was looking for other women to hike with because my family wasn’t interested in hiking all the time, but they weren’t comfortable with me hiking alone. In the fall of 2017, I hiked Maryland Heights with a group of women from Mountain Chicks Virginia. We had such a great time, I was inspired to volunteer as an ambassador for Girls Who Hike and start an independent chapter in Maryland. 

What area does GWH MD encompass and who can participate? 

We include any woman 18 or older from Maryland and throughout the region. All ability levels are welcome. Hikes range from 4–10 miles long and take about 30 minutes per mile.

The organization has always been free to join and operates informally through a closed Facebook community for individuals who identify as female. Women form connections within the group, creating their own hikes in addition to the monthly hikes promoted through Facebook and Eventbrite. The only fees involved are for park entrance fees or if members carpool and want to pitch in for gas money.

How many members are there now? 

Over 6,000! I think women enjoy being part of the group because they learn about new places to hike and meet other women who enjoy hiking. We’ve had exponential growth during the COVID-19 pandemic, consistent with a renewed interest in the outdoors by many people, mainly because the outdoors never really closed.

What are the benefits of hiking? 

Moving outdoors has more therapeutic value for your health than moving indoors. Hiking can strengthen your core, build muscle, help control weight, lower your risk of heart disease, and improve your blood pressure and blood sugar levels. It can be a great workout! Nature is naturally calming and can lessen feelings of depression and anxiety. It can strengthen focus, feelings, and creativity. Green spaces also help to lower our cortisol (stress hormone) levels. When in nature, people often report experiencing feelings of awe, and increased feelings of gratitude and selflessness.

Can you share a favorite hiking spot? 

Sunset hikes at Annapolis Rock and Weverton Cliffs are fun to do with a group and we always have a great time, arriving there and taking time to soak in the beauty of the sky as the sun dips below the horizon.

Your daughter Julia is a bit of a trail celebrity. I hear she even has a trail moniker— “Pigtails.” How did Julia get involved, and at what age? 

I took Julia on her first hike when she was just a few weeks old. She was born in September, and I didn’t want to miss the fall color that year, so I tucked her into a front carrier for a family hike at Cunningham Falls State Park. I hiked to Wolf Rock and Chimney Rock at Catoctin with all three kids that June and decided I needed to get a frame pack to keep her up on my shoulders so she could see out. We did a lot of local hikes that summer and hiked in the Great Smoky Mountains. 

At the age of 3, Julia became my regular trail sidekick, and the following year her interest in hiking took off. By the time she was 4, she completed all 41 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Maryland and the 52 Hike Challenge. We’ve section hiked a 162-mile section of the trail from northern Virginia to the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, and hope to keep going. She is fueled by white blazes, AT symbols, and fruit snacks. 

How has Julia inspired you to keep going?

Julia reminds me how to see things in nature through the eyes of a child. As a trained nature therapy guide, I have joked that she’s actually my nature therapy guide, reminding me to slow down and appreciate it all. She’s like a sponge when it comes to learning what I’ve taught her and is always pointing those things out on the trail. She’ll say things like “Mom! Look at that moss,” and “Don’t the sycamores look so pretty with their white tops right now?” 

What do you hope she gains from the time you spend hiking together—now and as she grows older?

I hope that our time on the trail has created a strong bond between the two of us. I hope we can continue to share this time together and that our day hikes grow into backpacking trips. But more than that, I feel like her trail time has made her realize her abilities. I hope she continues to see herself as strong and capable. 

What’s next? 

I want to incorporate more nature journaling and watercolors into my day hikes. And there will be plenty more Appalachian Trail section hikes for me and Julia. Last spring I finally got to go backpacking, so I’m excited to do more of that with my backpacking buddies. 

 

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