This profile is part of four-week series on local women’s groups in honor of Women’s History Month. Read previous profiles here.
To celebrate her 30th birthday in February, Mindy Capito’s husband asked her to pick a destination for them to venture to. Her answer was surprising — even to herself.
“I chose the middle of the woods in Virginia,” she says of their trip to the Shenandoah Valley. “Ask me that last year, and we would’ve been on the beach, or maybe in Savannah, but there’s no way we’d have been hiking up a 3½-mile mountain.”
Capito joined Wanderfully Wild a little over a year ago. At the time, she had little trekking experience, but her involvement in this South Jersey women’s group — devoted to inspiring and empowering its members to get outdoors — has changed that. Last fall, she signed up for a camping trip, her first since she was a kid.
“Joining this group of all women, and learning how to make a fire, put up my own tent, buy the right repellent — it made me feel really independent and showed me how doable it is,” Capito says.
From September through June, Wanderfully Wild curates two outdoor adventures per month — mostly hikes, but also bike rides, kayaking trips, yoga sessions, and, occasionally, a winery visit worked into a hike. The activities are held throughout New Jersey.
Ashley McPartland, 32, cofounded the group in fall 2017 with best friend and fellow hiking enthusiast Brittany McCreesh, 30. Since meeting more than a decade ago, they have logged thousands of miles traveling together.
“We wanted to create a space where people could realize what they’re capable of accomplishing, and to join together with like-minded women to support and encourage each other to try new things," McPartland says.
McPartland has signed up for overseas service trips every year since she was 21. After one in 2016 — an all-women expedition to Tanzania dedicated to clean water access — she felt the desire to create a project of her own closer to home.
“I was getting to the point where it was time to settle down and buy a house, but I was anxious about falling into this work-home, work-home routine,” says McPartland, a legal assistant in Egg Harbor Township. “I thought, ‘Why not just create something here that has a purpose and that can open the doors to women who might not have the opportunity or confidence to get out and adventure by themselves?’ ”
McPartland texted McCreesh, who was traveling in Alaska at the time, about starting a hiking group. Within months, Wanderfully Wild was up and running.
“At first, it was just our moms and our good friends coming out,” says McCreesh, a kindergarten teacher who lives in Cape May County. “But after a handful of events, word seemed to spread overnight on Facebook, and we had 50 or 60 women of all ages showing up to hike.”
Wanderfully Wild’s Facebook page currently has just over 450 members. The page is primarily used to share news of coming events, all of which are now ticketed to keep attendance manageable.
“Smaller groups make it easier for us to maintain a ‘leave no trace’ philosophy out in nature,” McPartland says. “The intimacy also enables us to really bond and connect and build relationships.”
Depending on the activity and challenge level, Wanderfully Wild events are capped at 10 to 20 people. The free tickets are first-come, first-served, and are generally all spoken for within a day of going live.
Many members say the social component is one of Wanderfully Wild’s most valuable aspects.
“I’m so, so grateful for this group — from the time I pull up until the time that I leave, I’m literally always smiling,” says TeddiLyn Welden, 41, of Newfield, N.J. “Everyone cares about not only nature, but other women in nature. We’re all there to create a safe and fun experience that empowers women to realize that they don’t need a man out there to survive.”
For Welden, the friends she’s made through the group feel like a second family.
“We Facebook and text each other," she says. "I feel like I always have other people to turn to when I want to go out and do something, whether it’s a strenuous hike on the Appalachian Trail or a stroll in the park.”
“I was always scared of falling,” Capito says. “But I’ve learned hiking makes me feel strong and beautiful, and I’m determined to keep challenging myself.”
To expand the group, McPartland and McCreesh envision a future with multiple hikes per event, organized by level of difficulty. They’re also eager to hold more overnight camping trips.