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Children inspire author's new book on hiking

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Jeff Alt built hiking partners for life when he exposed daughter Madison and son William to hiking when they were both babes-in-arms. Their adventures since have led them to the storied Appalachian Trail and other popular U.S. hiking spots.The cover of Alt's new book, which he will promote at a June 13 book signing at Taylor Books in downtown Charleston.Having kids can inspire a parent.

They inspired Jeff Alt to write a book about how to interest and motivate youngsters to try hiking, and how to equip them for it. The book, "Get Your Kids Hiking," just came out, and Alt will visit Charleston on June 13 to introduce it to readers.

Alt is already known in hiking circles for his book, "A Walk for Sunshine." First published in 2000, it chronicles how Alt, inspired by a brother who has cerebral palsy, hiked the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail.

Alt's children, 8-year old Madison and 5-year-old William, inspired his latest book.

"I realized there's a lot of information about hiking in print, but not so much information that's specifically for kids," Alt said. "And most of it is scattered around in books 2-inches thick.

"Kids grow up fast. I wrote this book so parents wouldn't have to waste a lot of time researching. They can just get out and go."

Alt drew much of the material from personal experience.

"Both of our kids have been hiking with my wife and me since they were infants," he said.

"Madison was 10 weeks old when we first took her, and William was just eight weeks old. Obviously they weren't walking at that age; we carried them on our backs in child carriers."

At that age, babies can't communicate. Alt believes, however, that they absorb everything: the sights, the smells, the sounds and the myriad experiences that come with being outdoors.

"Start them as young as you can," he said. "When you expose a kid to hiking at a very young age, it sticks. No age is too early. Hiking equipment makes a great baby-shower gift."

When Alt's wife got pregnant with their daughter, he worried that his long-distance hiking days might be ending.

"Not so. We added a few pieces of equipment and kept right on hiking," he said.

For parents whose kids are no longer infants, Alt offers one all-important bit of advice: "The key is making it fun," he said. "You want to help them have such a good time they'll want to come back.

"Take your cues from the kids. If they throw rocks into the creek, you throw rocks into the creek.

"If they want to look for bugs, you look for bugs with them," he said. "Put interactive stuff in their little day packs -- cameras, bug catchers, magnifying glasses, stuff like that."

The Internet gets a lot of blame for modern youngsters' stay-indoors lifestyle, but Alt sees it as a motivational tool to get kids excited about hiking.

"Get on the Web and show them pictures of where they're going and what they're going to see. Get them all buzzed up about it," he said.

Electronic technology, widely blamed for keeping older kids indoors, can also help get them outdoors.

"Get a GPS receiver and take them on a geocaching adventure," Alt advised. "Give them a smartphone and make them journalists, taking pictures and uploading them to Facebook or their home blog. The kids won't even realize they're walking."

Once youngsters get used to the idea of hiking, Alt said to get them involved in planning the next adventure.

"Ask them where they want to go next," he said. "Start showing them videos and websites. Let them plan the vacations. And as they get older and get into the social scene, let them bring a friend along."

Equipping a child for hiking doesn't require a lot of money.

"With infants, you basically need a child carrier and good shoes for yourself," Alt said. "For the first couple of years after they start walking, you can get by with putting good comfortable sneakers on their feet. Once they start carrying a pack, they should have hiking shoes with good sturdy soles.

"Synthetic clothing is important because, unlike cotton, it wicks moisture away from the skin," he said. "That kind of clothing used to be available mostly from outfitters, but nowadays you can find it at big-box stores. The only true specialty item you'll need to buy is waterproof-breathable raingear."

The book "Get Your Kids Hiking" contains 11 appendices -- gear lists for care-giving parents, for infants, for toddlers and for kids in several stages of development from preschool through teens. Alt has laid them out in plain language and in a format that's easy to read.

During the June 13 book signing at Taylor Books in downtown Charleston, Alt and his family will be available to the public from 5 to 7 p.m. He said he looks forward to helping other parents get their children started in a wholesome outdoor activity.

"Kids growing up today are given iPads and are told that's what fun is," he said. "I want them to learn how to have fun in the outdoors."

Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231, or e-mail johnmccoy@wvgazette.com.


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