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Urban Hikes Explores History, Architecture and Art with Exercise to Boot

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2 minute read

By Kevin Collison

Lisa Peña traces her inspiration to launch Urban Hikes Kansas City to her childhood days exploring the woods near her home in the Rosedale neighborhood of KCK.

“As I got older, I realized how much I like being outdoors,” she said. “I also loved Kansas City growing up and tried to visit the cool areas at the time, Westport and 39th Street.”

These days, she’s combined her enjoyment of nature and her urban curiosity into a creative livelihood guiding people on walks through the Crossroads, Westside, the Strawberry Hill neighborhood and starting Saturday, the Country Club Plaza and Crestwood.

“I love how Kansas City has grown over the past 20 years and love to share it,” Peña said.

She also brings context and knowledge from her life experience to her tours.

Peña graduated from Azusa Pacific University near Pasadena, Cal. in 2003 and earned her master’s degree in public administration from UMKC in 2011. She also served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic in 2003-06.

“My Peace Corps experience was a pivotal point in my life, learning about others and understanding others,” she said.

Urban Hikes tours include exploring the alleys of the Crossroads District for street art. (Photo by Rebekah Baughman)

It was listening to a podcast called Side Hustle Nation about 2 1/2 years ago that put her on the path to Urban Hikes. A woman in San Francisco, Alex Kenin, had launched an urban hikes program there and Peña loved the idea.

“I reached out to her and told her I’d like to replicate the idea here,” she said.

Peña began Urban Hikes KC in March 2019 while still working full-time for the Girl Scouts.

Her first hiking route was a six-mile trek starting at Liberty Memorial and taking in Union Station, the Crossroads Arts District west of Main and the Westside. Walkers admired street murals and learned about the Mexican-American immigrants who settled the Westside.

By March of this year, Urban Hikes had taken off to the point Peña could make it her full-time gig, leaving the Girls Scouts after more than five years.

She launched another urban hike of the Strawberry Hill neighborhood of KCK with the help of Rebekah Baughman, who works for the city tourism office.

That walk goes for about five miles and winds through the old neighborhood settled by Eastern Europeans with its corner taverns and ethnic churches, and includes a visit to the historic Huron Cemetery where members of the Wyandotte Indian Tribe are buried.

Lisa Peña discusses the Guadalupe Center on the Westside, part of how Urban Hikes KC also explores the social history along the way. (Photo by Boyer Web Studios)

The third tour is a more thorough look at all the street murals that have sprouted in the entire Crossroads District, including the East Crossroads. The five-mile walk takes in works done for the SpraySeeMo festival and part of the proceeds go to that nonprofit.

A new tour is starting Saturday. Peña calls it the Plaza Lights and Crestwood Hike. It mixes an appreciation of the architecture and festive lights with lessons about the history of segregation in Kansas City and J.C. Nichols role reinforcing it.

Most of the hikes are done on weekends, although Peña said private groups can have special ones scheduled during the week. Because of the pandemic health restrictions, tours currently are limited to nine people.

The charge is $32 for adults, $22 for children 10- to 18, and seniors and veterans, $27. Children under 10 are free.

One surprise Peña has found is the number of local people who like to take her walks.

“So much of what they see is new to them,” she said. “Originally I thought the hikes would appeal to people visiting Kansas City.

“We still have many tourists, but this year, because of Covid, the majority have been locals.”

She’s also been impressed by the abundance of street art.

“One thing I didn’t expect was the wide range of murals we have in Kansas City,” Peña said. “There are hundreds and we’re constantly getting more.”

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