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BIG GAY HIKE one of highlights of Winter Pride

The free event welcomes people of all ages to a 3.5km loop around the Starkey Hill Conservation Area
20220128 Nature In Transition AD
Jasper Smith, left, standing with Nature In Transition peer support workers , Jaye Crawford, middle, and Desmond Amy, right.

Strap on some sturdy boots and get outdoors with an upcoming event by Nature In Transition for Winter Pride.

Winter Pride's BIG GAY HIKE with Nature In Transition is being hosted in partnership with ARCH Guelph for Winter Pride, a festival run by Guelph Pride. This free event welcomes people of all ages to a 3.5km loop around the Starkey Hill Conservation Area.

Jasper Smith, an education coordinator with ARCH Guelph and organizer of Nature In Transition, said the idea for this hike was to get people out and moving.

“I chose to do a hike, specifically a longer, more challenging hike for this one because a lot of folks haven’t been getting outside, we haven’t had more of those rigorous activities in quite some time,” said Smith about the event.

On Feb. 12, Smith and trained peer support workers will take two groups of eight participants through the Starkey Hill Conservation Area. One group will start at 1 p.m. and another at 2 p.m. The theme for the hike is Community and Connection: addressing isolation and how staying connected to other people and the land can help us ground and stay well. Winter Pride will run from Feb. 4 to Feb. 13. 

"We ask folks to obviously dress appropriately, if you have ice cleats we encouraged you to bring them,  I will also have extra hiking poles and things like that if folks would appreciate the extra stability," they said. "We're also asking people to stay masked for the hike just to encourage safety and less germ sharing this way."

This hike is the first event Nature in Transition is hosting since the pandemic occurred. After posting about the hike, Smith said there is already a waiting list. Those who are interested in joining the wait list can do so at eventbrite.ca.

“It seems by how fast it sold out that the need is there,” said Smith. “We’ve had folks reaching out about these programs within the community...we're excited to be offering this one.

"If things don't get worse, and if the prospects look good as the date approaches, we're hoping to open that wait list and add some people into each of the groups."

Starting as a side project by Smith at ARCH Guelph, Nature In Transition aims to provide the opportunity to develop emotional wellness, positive well-being, confidence, and connection to themselves, community, and the land through various hikes and outdoor experiences.

Smith explains they coordinate a variety of peer support programming, where transgender and non-binary peer workers are hired, trained in community-level counselling skills, and then paid to support others in the region through a variety of workshops, training opportunities, and a weekly drop-in. 

"A lot of these folks cannot access traditional psychotherapy because it's too expensive, inaccessible, or they do and have adverse experiences," said Smith. "We wanted to provide them with something that is affirming and this is kind of a way to meet that need and anchoring the work in place of where we are, in terms of our natural environment, as well as our community, our collective experiences and those kind of things."

In the past, Nature In Transition has held events like Earth Day cleanups, Game Day at a park and hikes at hiking trails accessible by public transport. This spring, Smith said the Nature in Transition program will be able to expand on what ARCH already offers, by providing more social support and peer counselling events and programs that bring 2SLGBTQIA+ people out onto the land to foster new kinds of healing in community.

“I have been working with a couple different collaborators and we’re hoping to offer multiple week sessions that are based in group counselling, so it will be land-based counselling and group hikes," said Smith, adding they are excited about the opportunity. “It will look a little more different, but it will be more structured and little more space in my schedule to commit to these projects weekly."


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Ariel Deutschmann

About the Author: Ariel Deutschmann

Ariel Deutschmann is a feature writer and reporter who covers community events, businesses, social initiatives, human interest stories and more involving Guelph and Wellington County
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