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On Trail of Perfect Solution : * A group called Single Parent Hikers lets people enjoy the outdoors while it furnishes playmates for their children.

March 18, 1994|LISA HALLET | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Lisa Hallett is a Laguna Niguel writer

When Roger Haft and his ex-wife divorced, she got custody of the friends with children. And having someone for your offspring to play with when they're staying with you on your designated days is probably something that doesn't occur to most parents during a divorce.

Haft found his solution in Single Parent Hikers, a nonprofit group of single parents and their children, whose common denominator is being part of non-nuclear households and having unabashed pleasure in spending time outdoors.

The group was formed about four years ago by some hiking enthusiasts, and Haft assumed leadership a year or so later. Haft and a few other active participants have built the group to about 180 members.

Nearly 50% of its members are from the San Fernando Valley, says Therese Schwartz, of Encino and the group's vice president. A few come from as far away as Orange County.

Single Parent Hikers have something going almost every weekend. Hiking destinations have included Orcutt Ranch in Canoga Park, Balboa Park in Encino, Malibu Creek State Park in Malibu and various sites in the local mountains. An orienteering expedition will be held at 10 a.m. Sunday at Griffith Park. (Orienteering refers to a hike that uses a topographical or detailed map. Participants must find a series of checkpoints or flags that have been indicated on the map.) The group also visits cultural establishments, as long as there is some walking and outdoor activity.

"It certainly was a thousand times more fun going to the Natural History Museum with 30 other kids and having a picnic on the ground than it would have been had I taken my sons there alone," says James David Weinstock, a member and divorced father from Van Nuys.

For many members, Single Parent Hikers is their first experience with hiking, but major equipment isn't necessary. A sturdy pair of running shoes, long pants to protect against poison oak, poison ivy or brush and a knapsack for lunch and essentials are all a hiker needs.

"Once in a while someone will show up, and you have to tell them their shoes may not work very well. But for the most part, these are people who have some affinity for the outdoors. A lot of times on our camping trips we'll find people are first-time campers. But I don't think we've ever had anyone discouraged by the rigors of camping," Haft says.

Haft and Schwartz put the male-female ratio at about 50-50. Some events, like a not-so-strenuous walk through Descanso Gardens in La Canada, bring out the female members, whereas outings in the snow or on more rugged terrain attract more fathers and children. Parents range from about 25 to 50, and most of the children are under 10, including many preschoolers.

*

Usually two hikes are embarked on once everyone has arrived at the spot designated in the organization's newsletter. A shorter one is planned for small children, followed by a longer, more arduous venture for older kids and more experienced hikers. Picnics break up the two hikes and give children and parents time to hang out together.

Hikes are staggered to take place Saturdays or Sundays. "Some parents only have their kids on Saturdays or Sundays, while others have their kids every other week," Haft says.

Socializing with those in the same boat is a draw for Fernando Serrano of Encino, who has two daughters, ages 10 and 6.

"There don't seem to be many support systems out there for single fathers," Serrano says. "This group offers a good mix of people."

Haft, of Venice, looked into other single-parents groups before his involvement with Single Parent Hikers. "The other things I found didn't really work for me and didn't seem to provide interaction between parents and kids. They seemed to have more of a 'single's club' atmosphere. While we've had a couple of marriages that have occurred as a result of our group, it's not the major thrust."

Schwartz says, "It was great to find a group where I could actually be with my daughter and with other people who weren't couples. . . . "It feels so good to have a group with which I can identify."

WHERE AND WHEN

What: Single Parent Hikers join the L. A. Orienteering Club for a hike in Griffith Park.

Location: Griffith Park, Vermont Avenue north entrance. Group will meet in parking lot opposite the Greek Theater.

Hours: 10 a.m. Sunday.

Call: (310) 978-4595.

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