The Instagram handle appeared just over a year ago in the spring of 2021, as a small but welcoming presence in our state’s vibrant outdoor scene emerged. Scroll through the many photos populating @ri.queer.hikes and find stunning landscapes and smiling faces. More than a typical hiking group, RI Queer Hikes is a uniquely inclusive space fostering friendships over a shared admiration for nature.
“It just took off, which really surprised me,” says RI Queer Hikes founder Mel Thibeault, who created the social group for adventure-seeking members of the LGBTQ+ community in Rhode Island and southern New England. The idea was sparked by her own search for other queer people who wanted to get out and explore nature. “As a queer adult, how do you meet people?” she pondered. “There are not a ton of queer spaces out there.”
And at the time of founding, many usual spaces were shuttered due to COVID. “I think the pandemic was part of it,” Thibeault says of the group’s success. “People were getting vaccinated and itching to get out and were just starting to gather outside where it was safe.”
“The group is so much fun and so uplifting,” says member Sylvia Rosalia-Vaccaro. “I was just coming out of pandemic mode when I decided to go to one of the hikes, and from the minute I stepped out of the car, I felt welcomed.”
Both Thibeault and Rosalia-Vaccaro experienced similar frustrations about trying to meet other queer adults after graduating college and settling in Rhode Island. “Mel really understood what we needed and had this great idea to bring people together,” shares Rosalia-Vaccaro.
These easy-to-moderate hikes typically see anywhere from 15-24 participants at parks and trails spanning the state, from Ell Pond Preserve in Hopkinton to Wolf Hill Forest in Smithfield, and plenty in between. The Instagram account, where the club stays connected, now has nearly 1,000 followers. Some people have attended every hike while others drop in and out, joining when they can.
“We want to be inclusive, but, as we grow, we might have to limit the size or break off into smaller groups,” Thibeault says. With Pride season underway, she wants to spread the word so others can get involved. “I definitely want to keep it going and growing. I also have a full-time job, so I want people to connect and organize on their own. They don’t need me to do everything.”
The relationships extend well beyond the one- to two-hour hikes around local parks and trails. Many find connections with one another and build meaningful friendships. “I’ve connected with other queer folks in ways that bring me joy and the sense of community I’ve been looking for, not just on the day of the hike but long after,” says Rosalia-Vaccaro.
“Personally, I have met a fair number of good friends and I see other people making connections,” Thibeault echoes. “Ultimately, that’s the goal. It’s lovely to see.”
To get involved and to find out about upcoming adventures, follow @ri.queer.hikes on Instagram.
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