HIKEhoppers reconnect with nature, find balance

by Cori Hilsgen


If you are feeling stressed and disconnected from nature, then hiking might be a good way to get some exercise and add balance to your life.

Local HIKEhoppers members Matt Jenson, Mindi Jenson, Emma Schott, Grant Stromgren, Stef Rothstein and others feel in today’s busy technological world, many people are disconnecting from nature.

They have found hiking can help them reconnect with nature to establish a better balance and less stress in their daily lives. Daily hiking can strengthen the body, calm the mind and feed the soul.

HIKEhoppers was started by Matthew Jenson and his mother Mindi Jensen. The HIKEhoppers team now includes wellness practitioners, licensed educators, technology experts and outdoor adventurists who bring diverse skills to the group.

After returning from a hiking trip he took in August last year, Matt wanted to continue hiking but had no idea where to begin.

He began hiking a few state parks and then started the Minnesota Hiking Club Challenge in September. He and Mindi set out to complete the goal of 75 parks in 365 days.

They are getting closer to this goal and have until Oct. 1 to do so.

Their first hike included Fort Snelling and Lake Maria state parks. A second hike took them to the Charles Lindbergh and Crow Wing state parks.

After both of their hikes they felt tired and content. They joked about a Generation X (people born around the years 1961-1981) mom reflecting on life and happiness with a Millennial (people born around the years 1982-2004) son coming of age wondering what to do with his life – finding themselves one hike at a time.

We would say ‘It’s all about the hike,'” Matt said.

They noticed their bodies were growing stronger, they were able to de-stress from their “normal crazy” lives faster and began to feel more balanced.

Hiking for the two of them became a “Chicken Soup” for their souls. They realized moving and being outside in nature was improving their well-being.

In November, they created HIKEhoppers. As they hiked, they joined others. As they talked, others joined them.

This inspired them to create a team of people committed to building a strong, locally based group.

By January of 2017, Matt and Mindi (Cold Spring) had connected with Emma Schott (Sartell), Stef Rothstein (St. Stephen), Grant Stromgren (St. Joseph), and Ryan Brown (Grand Forks).

Matt and Mindi were also able to partner with CentraCare BLEND (Better Living: Exercise and Nutrition Daily), a coalition committed to reducing childhood obesity in central Minnesota, as well as with the Stearns County Parks, to organize their first HIKEhoppers event – a Park Hop on June 17.

The event was held at Rockville, Kraemer Lake-Wildwood and Quarry county parks. Participants “hopped” among the three parks.

Matt works as in intern for the Stearns County Attorney’s office and has always been passionate about law, politics and taking responsibility in our cities and towns to make them the best we can.

His recent passion for hiking has helped him realize the importance of connecting with the outdoors and using local green spaces.

HIKEhoppers is a way he can spread the message to people that we have some great hiking spots in our backyard.

“It is a great way for me to pursue and act on some of the topics I feel are important,” he said. “Every day we wake up and learn and experience something new. I want to live my beliefs and not just talk about them. Life is an adventure and I hope HIKEhoppers will help people in our community come adventure with us.”

Schott, one of the newest members of HIKEhoppers, is a registered yoga teacher and owner of Serenity Wellness and Healing in St. Cloud. Her work focuses on the connection between the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual realms of people’s lives.

It’s a passion of hers to help share the gift of wellness and well-being with individuals and groups to help them heal, grow and unleash their full potential.

Schott said she was attracted to HIKEhoppers because its mission values aligned so closely to her practice.

“The practices of strengthening our body, calming our mind and feeding our soul will help ensure we live balanced, healthy and joyful lives,” Schott said.

Her specialty area will be within the “Be Well Minnesota” (#BwellMN) initiative (one of three initiatives the group is planning to uphold their mission statement), events and wellness retreats that are planned.

The other two initiatives are “Let’s Hike Minnesota” (#LetsHikeMN),  and “Learning Minnesota” (#LearningMN).

Schott has both personally experienced and witnessed the healing aspects of nature and firmly believes spending time outside and connecting with nature has a strong and positive impact on our physical and mental health.

Yoga, meditation, hiking and spending time in nature helped Schott heal from anxieties and stress and are her resources when she notices herself feeling overwhelmed.

If any of her patients or loved ones are experiencing depression, anxiety, panic attacks or chronic stress, she will suggest they “unplug” from electronics, television, social media and the news and get grounded in nature.

“Even if it’s just for a short amount of time, it’s amazing how much it can help,” Schott said. “You can really find clarity and peace when you gift yourself time away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.”

Rothstein, who works with youth and family education, said a “Park Escape: Into the Woods at Kraemer Lake” and youth team-building retreats are being planned.

“We are working to offer events and activities with a variety of community education sectors and are nearing completion of offering educational institutions the opportunity to contract with us for experiential-learning and design-thinking units,” she said. “It’s an exciting and exhausting time altogether. What keeps us going is the fact every person we talk to has their own story and idea for what could be, as if conversation alone inspires people to think outside the box in terms of wellness and learning.”

Stromgren met Mindi through a business-leader-networking group and spoke with her about his company, Little Acorn, which is a web and mobile-application-software business he runs from his St. Joseph home.

“I started the company with the vision of being environmentally responsible, something that is lost in technology companies today, and actively giving back profits to nonprofit organizations,” he said.

The two connected on their shared values.

“We found we have the same passion and yearning for getting outdoors, going on hikes to clear our minds, and connecting with nature and others,” Stromgren said.

Realizing how technology can assist HIKEhoppers, he soon joined the group.

“We now have some big technology plans for HIKEhoppers,” Stromgren said. “I’m proud to be part of a passionate team with such a wholesome objective.”

HIKEhoppers has a goal to create events with local businesses and organizations that help people live lives that are physically, educationally and emotionally fulfilling.

The group hopes to have several area experiences available in the St. Cloud area this year. They include “Park Escapes” in October, “Park Challenge” in fall and “Park Blast” in winter.

For additional information about HIKEhoppers, how hiking can be beneficial to your health, upcoming events and to sign up for the monthly newsletter, visit the HIKEhoppers.org website.

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This hiking sign at Kramer Lake Park notified attendees where to enter and park during a recent June 17 HIKEhoppers Park Hop event.

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St. Joseph residents Grant and Nicole Stromgren take a break with their dog, Ula, during a recent summer hike at the Apostle Islands.

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Rockville residents John and Linda Peck enjoy some spring hiking with HIKEhoppers members Emma Schott and Matt Jenson (left to right) at the Rockville County Park. The Pecks, who live near the park, donated much of the land in the park.

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HIKEhoppers members (clockwise, back to front), Brian Hansen, Emma Schott and husband and wife Stef and Jake Rothstein, distribute lunches at Quarry County Park during a June 17 ParkHop event. Lunches were donated by CentraCare Blend and provided by Coborn’s.


Cori Hilsgen

Cori Hilsgen


Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people's stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.
Cori Hilsgen
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