Take a hike: Women’s hiking club off to fast start

By Joe Stumpe | December 31, 2021

Cindy Coughenour, left, and Jeri Brungardt celebrate their ascent of Flattop Mountain near Estes Park, Colo.

A pair of Wichita women seem to have unleashed a mini-stampede with a simple question: Anybody want to go for a hike?

Cindy Coughenour and Jeri Brungardt, who started Women Hiking KS and Beyond two years ago, drew 17 women to the first hike they organized. In October, 106 showed up for a hike at Kanopolis Lake State Park. 

Surprising? Yes.

On the other hand, Coughenour said, why shouldn’t they?

“You’re moving, you’re outside having a good time.”

Coughenour and Brungardt met several years ago when Coughenour was teaching self-defense classes to female employees of Wesley Medical Center, where Brungardt worked.

One day, Brungardt asked Coughenour if she liked to hike. “I said, well, I’m sure I do,” Coughenour said.

They made several hikes and posted photos on Facebook. “Women would say, ‘Oh, I want to go next time. Take me!” Coughenour remembers.

So they put together a Facebook page called Women Hiking KS and Beyond, describing themselves as a “female monthly hiking group,” and scheduled their first official group hike. 

Brungardt expected a few close friends to join them, but she knew only two of the 17 who attended the inaugural hike at Camp Horizon in Arkansas City. Fifty showed up for the next hike, in Elk City, and 60 for the one after that, at Pawnee Prairie Park off South Tyler. A trip to Rocky Mountain Park in Colorado last year drew 37, while this summer’s trip there attracted 68. The Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma were another destination.

Most participants are in their 40s, 50s and 60s, with 80 being the oldest hiker to date. It’s open to any female 12 and older.

It seems unlikely that the group has reached its full potential considering that its Facebook page has more than 6,500 followers. 

Coughenour said the group tries to do a mix of local hikes and those farther away, such as Wilson Lake near Lucas. They also look for sites that allow for short and long hikes.

“Some hike 10 miles, some a tenth of a mile,” Coughenour said. “We try to let them know there is no bad hike.”

Of in-state hikes, Brungardt counts Kanopolis State Park near Ellsworth as her favorite.

Coughenour and Brungardt take their responsibilities as the group’s leaders seriously. The two visit every location, walk the terrain and check on details such as parking availability before scheduling a hike. “Even the local hikes, we try to make sure we have a good idea of what the ladies are in for,” Coughenour said.

One local hike covered parts of the Wichita riverfront and downtown, for a total of 4½ miles.

The group will meet to hike at the Great Plains Nature Center at 9 a.m. on Jan. 1. A trip to Devil’s Den State Park in northwest Arkansas is set for April, and Brungardt said several sites in the Kansas City area are under consideration for future hikes.

Brungardt has been an avid hiker for 20 years, but she says there’s something different and rewarding about doing hiking with such a large and enthusiastic group.

“I think probably more than anything, it’s getting women out of all ages and abilities and realizing that they can get out and do things. It’s amazing how many people didn’t know they could and also didn’t know there so many nice things in Kansas, too.”

Coughenour said there are no plans to let men join the group because “men and women see things differently. When my husband and I go hiking, it’s not near as enjoyable as when Jeri and I go. He’d rather be out fishing and I enjoy being in the trees.”

“It has become way more than the hiking. It’s become, in my opinion, a really safe place for women that are maybe just getting back into exercise or trying hiking for the first time.”

To join

If you are interested in joining Women Hiking KS and Beyond, visit the group’s Facebook page by that name. There is no cost other than a $10 fee for expenses related to out-of-state trips.