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Contributed photo by Valerie Radu / Valerie Radu, center, Girls Who Hike Tennessee lead ambassador for Southeast Tennessee, leads a hike at Harrison Bay State Park.

As a woman, hitting the trails alone isn't always the best idea for safety reasons. Plus, hiking with a group is more fun and a great way to meet people with similar interests.

Whether you have a significant other who hates to hike, you're new in town, or all your friends are busy when you get the urge to get out, Girls Who Hike Tennessee can connect you with other like-minded ladies. The statewide group communicates and announces events through its private Facebook page, which has more than 8,000 members.

While you may see casual posts from women looking for hiking buddies to join them on the trail, the group's official events are organized by its regional ambassadors. Valerie Radu, lead ambassador of the Southeast region, volunteers to plan two events a month and also serves as a "cheerleader," she says.

Events often involve more than just a hike, says Radu. A recent event she organized featured a hike on Little Cedar Mountain followed by wine and pizza at nearby Lookout Winery. A professional therapist, Radu has also led mental health-focused hikes, as well as urban hikes in downtown Chattanooga and weekend camping trips.

An all-female group is a huge benefit for many women, especially those who are new to outdoor experiences who may feel intimidated or overwhelmed in a co-ed group, as well as trauma survivors who feel supported and validated in an all-female group.

"It's really just kind of a safe place for women to come and have fun but also get the support and resources they need," she says.

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Contributed photo by Cheri Ann Haney / A group with Girls Who Hike Tennessee hikes the Duskin Branch Trail near Spring City.

When the California-based owner of the nationwide Girls Who Hike organization relinquished control to her state chapter ambassadors last February, Ash Bailey — who'd been an ambassador in Florida before moving to Johnson City, Tennessee, and becoming an ambassador there — became the de facto leader of the Tennessee group.

"I did not want it to dissolve, because I'm very passionate about getting women out in nature," Bailey says. "It's been super-healing for me, and I see how it helps others."

She's been recruiting new ambassadors, and as a team they've grown the Facebook group membership exponentially, taking it from about a thousand Facebook group members to nearly 9,000.

Radu says she's also hiked with groups organized through Meetup, which, unlike Girls Who Hike, requires people to pay to be a member in order to participate. Anyone can join the Girls Who Hike Facebook group (although there is some vetting involved) and participate in hikes for free. They are asked to let ambassadors know they plan to attend, and to fill out a waiver and a health form. Women who choose to become members pay a $15 annual fee and can attend members-only events held every two or three months and have access to members-only merchandise.

After moving to Chattanooga in May 2019, Anabel Garner joined the group in January 2021 and has since become an ambassador for the Southeast region.

"I recommend it to everybody," she says of the group. "It's just easy, it's open, it's safe, it's very approachable — it's just one more thing to add some joy to your life.

"Sometimes you have to make a change, and to make a change you have to put yourself out there a little. I feel like I did that and it's been really beneficial to me, and I feel really connected to people across the state through this group."

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Contributed photo by Valerie Radu / Valerie Radu is the Girls Who Hike Tennessee lead ambassador for Southeast Tennessee.

She said most hikes she's participated in have had around 10 people attend with varying levels of experience. They always make an effort to hike at a pace that makes everyone feel included, she says.

"We want to encourage people who maybe are beginners or a little bit out of their comfort zone, who want to try something new but might think 'I'm not in shape' or 'I'm too slow' or something like that," Garner says. "We really want it to be for everybody who's interested in getting outside."

One of Garner's goals has been to try backpacking and she's had Zoom calls with others from the group who've signed up for an upcoming trip, to share tips on how to prepare and what to bring. "Learning some of the basic stuff with the group like that has been fun," she says, adding that they've held other helpful informational sessions on topics such as snake and plant identification.

The group has several ongoing challenges that encourage participants to get involved and push themselves, such as the 52 State Park Challenge that encourages members to visit all the Tennessee state parks, and the 365 Mile Challenge that encourages people to walk or hike 365 miles over the course of the year.

To get involved, visit facebook.com/groups/girlswhohiketennessee and request to join the group.

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