Two women — one from Gaston County, the other from Morganton — have created a network of Latino hiking aficionados to connect the community with North Carolina nature.
After going on a hike with more than 20 others during Hispanic Heritage Month, Puerto Rican native and Gastonia resident Vivianette Ortiz, 34, organized a group of hikers alongside Honduran native and Morganton resident, Sandra Aguirre, 38.
That initial hike inspired them to create a Facebook group called "Latinos Aventureros en las Carolinas," which translates to "Adventurous Latinos in the Carolinas."
"After we saw the turnout we instantly decided to create this group," Ortiz said.
What started as a small group of Latino hikers in North Carolina expanded to more than 400 hikers, including 185 residents of Gaston County. The Latino hikers from North Carolina represent multiple countries in their backgrounds.
Every other Saturday, 18 to 20 members from the group join Ortiz and Aguirre for a hike, the latest one being at Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia on Saturday, Dec. 11.
"When someone non-Latino asks to join we of course welcome them. We invite the full spectrum of people and stand in solidarity with all individuals, organizations and societies that uphold this value," said Ortiz.
The group has done a total of five hikes alongside family and friends since its launch in October.
"I am very happy that there is a hiking group. Having a Latino one is important because we can share our culture and different dialects of Spanish. It has been a great experience to do what I like (hiking) with people who share the same interest," said Peruvian native and Charlotte resident Claudia Ramos, 44.
Like many members of the group, Ramos heard of the group through Ortiz, then spread the word to friends interested in the same activity.
Thanks to the group, Ramos experienced hiking for the first time and was able to create many memories alongside other members.
"It has been a beautiful experience. It is amazing to be able to have a connection with different people from all parts of the world," Ramos said.
Participants of the hikes are from around North Carolina. Some drive more than 50 miles to head out to the next adventure. These hikers also bring their children to take part in the hike, exposing them to sunlight and nature.
"Not many kids like to go hiking and I am not one of those who likes to stay inside. Joining this group has been one of the best things ever because I get to witness the beautiful scenery given to us by God," said Ortiz's son, Osbaldo Romero, 11.
"I get to connect more with my mom. The time I get to spend with her is amazing."
The hike that inspired the group took place at the Chimneys in Morganton on Monday, Oct. 11.
"I came across Sandra's profile on Facebook and just asked if she wanted to organize a hike for Hispanic Heritage Month and she said yea. Later we came up with the idea of starting a group because many love to hike but don't go because they don't have someone to join them," Ortiz said.
The goal during the hike was to watch the sunrise while each hiker represented their home country.
"The view was just breathtaking. We felt so accomplished because having this much diversity on the trails and mountains is important. While hiking, I have not seen many people of color and we wanted to create something that showed that," said Aguirre.
With more people joining the organization, Ortiz and Aguirre are still working the logistics of their group. They recently created a logo and put it on the back of a T-shirt.
"We are still coordinating and we are aiming to conduct a minimum of two hikes per month beginning in January," said Ortiz.
As a way to celebrate the national First Day Hike led by state parks throughout the country, members of the group will go back outdoors on Jan. 1.
First Day Hike is an initiative to encourage people to get outside on New Year's Day.
"It's hard to get people outside. I use to have a hard time getting friends and loved ones to go, so I'm so happy about this group," said Ortiz.
Beatriz Guerrero can be reached at 704-869-1828 or on Twitter@BeatrizGue_
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Two women create network of Latino hikers to connect with NC nature