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Meet us on the trail

When it comes to making friends, the outdoors can be a great matchmaker.

Southern Oregon Happy Trails brings people together for trips into nature. Its focus is on hiking, and there are no dues, regular meetings or officers. The group operates online using the social-media meetup.com platform. Individuals can sign up for notifications and receive them on their computers or mobile devices.

“Most of it is just people who are interested in getting outdoors,” says Happy Trails organizer Chris Wagenet, who has overseen the web operation for about six years. “Some people in the groups will hike and then they will meet up afterwards just for a social gathering.”

Wagenet has about 30 hike leaders who are allowed to post events, and 3,612 people have signed up for notices. In 2014, there were 1,349 registered users, including people from the Klamath Basin, all over Jackson and Josephine counties and Northern California.

“I know we are growing constantly,” says Wagenet. “I keep thinking it will plateau, but it is not plateauing.”

Some of those signed up never go on hikes. Wagenet speculates they are interested in knowing what is going on with trails and probably enjoy looking at the pictures of hikes that are posted.

Those who prefer to enjoy the outdoors at a faster pace can check out the Guardian Trail Club, which organizes trail runs several times a month.

The club operates a Facebook page, which is moderated by group founder Joe Snyder.

Snyder, a military science professor at Southern Oregon University, created the club out of a community he was already a part of — active service people in the National Guard who wanted extra workouts to supplement their required fitness training. The group has expanded mostly by word of mouth and social connections to include just over 50 people in the Facebook group, and between three and 15 who show up to runs all over the valley, Snyder says.

“No one cares about pace,” he says. “They only care about getting to the next vista. I think it’s judgment-free.”

The group occasionally offers biking opportunities, as well, but Snyder says running is more popular, “because it doesn’t require a bike, no gear. All you need is your shoes.”

Slopes and Trails is another group that formed around making friends outdoors, but the group has evolved to the point where it does a lot more than hike in the woods and strap on skis when snow flies.

The group brings people together for activities that include meetups for dinners, theater, ballroom dancing, bridge, potlucks, camping and more.

In the past couple of years, Slopes and Trails has transitioned from a primarily singles organization to a social club that includes couples. People who want to learn more about the group and meet some of the members can attend late afternoon TGIF events held weekly at various locales from Ashland to Grants Pass.

“It’s a mix of singles and married couples. It used to be single groups, but we opened it up to anyone who wants to be involved,” says President Jan Shipley of Jacksonville. “There’s a certain core group that shows up.”

The group has been around for least 25 years, says Shipley. All events are approved by the group’s board of directors.

“It’s an older group. Mostly over 55,” says Shipley. “It’s pretty much just everything that people think is fun. We put the word out, and then if we get some response, we set it up as an activity for our group.”

Campouts are aimed toward folks with RVs, although some tenters usually participate. The campouts are usually held near a hotel so noncampers can enjoy the time too, says Shipley.

Most events are in the Rogue Valley or the region, but there have been trips to New Zealand and Italy in the past.

The group has about 125 members. Dues are $35 per year, but there’s only one general membership meeting per annum. An 11-member board meets monthly.

Members can propose activities. Many of them are pursued, although a cooking class suggestion didn’t move forward due to limited response. But a dinner featuring the chef from a now-closed restaurant proved a success.

“I love the ballroom dancing,” says Shipley. “We just did some progressive dinners. These are always fun.”

Web addresses for the groups are: www.slopes.org; www.meetup.com/sohappytrails; www.facebook.com/groups/guardiantrailclub.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com. Kaylee Tornay contributed to this story.

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Thirty-seven people from Southern Oregon Happy Trails joined a hike to Lower Table Rock Feb. 3. - Courtesy photo
A hike to Garfield Peak in Crater Lake National Park drew 21 people (and a few dogs) from Southern Oregon Happy Trails in October last year. - Courtesy photo