Seven hikers gathered just east of the Utah Capitol as the last light of day shone through the thick and humid summer air.
The group of almost complete strangers was set for a short night hike in Memory Grove, hoping to beat out the rain promised by the cloud cover above.
Find some hiking friends
The Wastach Hiking and Outdoors Group is free to join and can be found at: www.meetup.com/wasatchhiking
» More than 4,000 people are members of the group online.
» The group usually organizes one hike per week.
» Other events like snowshoeing and rock climbing are also organized intermittently.
This is the Wasatch Hikers and Outdoors Group, comprising people that have usually never met, but all enjoy getting out for recreation in the mountains, forests and deserts of Utah.
Formed on the networking site Meetup, the group welcomes new members, who can join for free and head out with other hikers on jaunts through the Cottonwoods, Memory Grove, and everywhere in between.
"When we moved to Utah, there was not a group on Meetup that was a hiking group, so we decided to start one," said Nicole Beckstead, who founded the group in 2008 with her husband, Randon.
The Becksteads moved from Las Vegas and were having trouble meeting people that enjoyed the outdoors and hiking as much as they did. The couple lives in Layton, but now have friends from Salt Lake and beyond that they never would have come across without the Meetup group, Beckstead said.
"You foster these beautiful relationships when you normally wouldn’t meet these people," she said.
She said Utah’s varied population makes Meetup even more fun. Some people have family members that don’t enjoy hiking, others enjoy the safety of hiking in a group and some are just out-of-state transplants looking to find new acquaintances, and they all find their way to the Meetup group. On the Memory Grove hike alone, there were hikers from California, Idaho, Utah and Mexico City.
"Usually by the end of a long hike, you’re really good friends with the people that were on a hike with you," Beckstead said.
Murray resident Rick Gardiner joined the group five years ago and organizes most of the tougher hikes, often hosting hikers at his cabin near Brighton for concerts and socializing after recreation activities. Both he and Beckstead said the group usually organizes at least one hike per week, throwing in other events such as snowshoeing in the winter, rock climbing, and a ropes course. The average attendance is about 20 people, reaching as high as 80 for a hike to Silver Lake in Big Cottonwood Canyon.
"I think the biggest thing is you can go out and have a good time with people with a similar interest of being outdoors," Gardiner said.
By the end of the Memory Grove hike, the rain had started falling, making a short trip even shorter. But backstories, pleasantries and even a Spanish lesson had been exchanged, stoking at least a couple of new relationships.
Beckstead said the Meetup brings people together to adventure into the natural beauty of Utah with their kids, neighbors — and friends they’ll meet for the first time on the hike.
"I think it’s so important to show people how amazing our forests are and our backyard is," Beckstead said. "It’s so amazing."
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