It’s no surprise Erica Zazo is passionate about exploring the Midwest since her roots have expanded from metro-Detroit to Chicago. She’s a freelance outdoor and travel writer, and frequent contributor to Backpacker and Group Tour Magazines. If she’s not on the trail getting inspired for her next hiking, backpacking, or action-sport inspired story, you’ll find her at her favorite Chicago forest, Ryerson Conservation Area, or cruising around Logan Square on her bike or skateboard.
Mappy Hour (MH): How did you first get interested in the great outdoors?
Erica Zazo (EZ): I spent most of my childhood in the western suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, running around outdoors: playing Whiffle balls and Ghost in the Grave Yard in neighbors’ backyards, practicing soccer after school, and riding my bike around our cul-de-sac. But it wasn’t until my sophomore year of college, after being accepted to the Student Conservation Association Alternative Spring Break program, that I got my first real taste (the wild side) of The Great Outdoors. On the trip, I spent a week camping in the Everglades National Park doing conservation work with 20+ strangers including extracting invasive species plants in the backcountry and tending to wildfire-prone land to protect threatened native woodpeckers. It was an eye-opening adventure that lit a flame inside of me to continue to get outside and explore more.
MH: What parts of the outdoors do you connect with? Why is it important to you to get outside?
EZ: I have an affinity for hiking, backpacking and camping – particularly, exploring natural spaces in and around urban areas. I love finding beauty in lesser-known parks and preserves throughout the Midwest that don’t get as much foot traffic as some of the more populated State and National Forests. I also don’t need fancy mountains or sprawling National Park lands to feel immersed in the outdoors (though that’s a wonderful treat, of course). The Midwest is full of beautiful, natural places – perfect for weekend warriors and road trip lovers like me.
MH: What is your favorite Midwest Adventure?
EZ: Camping – specifically backpacking – is my favorite outdoor adventure. And there are some truly awesome places to camp in the Midwest. My favorite getaway from the city is road tripping to the Manistee National Forest, just outside of Muskegon, Michigan (on the west side of the state), for a 3-day weekender. There’s a 23-mile backpacking loop that runs along the Manistee River with a whole slew of campsites (no need for reservations or worry about crowded trails). You pass through hardwood forests, sweeping overlooks above the river bends, and even a 200-ft long suspension bridge at the halfway point. There’s really no backpacking trip like it within 5 hours of the city.
MH: How did you originally get involved in Mappy Hour?
EZ: I’ve been a freelance outdoor and travel writer for the past three years. Through my work with Backpacker Magazine and RootsRated, I’ve spent time researching and exploring Chicago’s urban outdoor areas from the Chicago Forest Preserves to state parks in the Midwest. When I found out there wasn’t a Mappy Hour Chicago chapter, I knew I wanted to be a part of the movement to bring local hikers, bikers, backpackers, and adventure-seekers – with a passion for the outdoors – to share secrets, tips, and their love for nature here in Chicago.
MH: What can Chicagoans get excited for in the upcoming year? What are you excited for with the launch of Mappy Hour Chicago?
EZ: As you can imagine, it’s not easy to meet outdoorsy people in a big city like Chicago. That said, there is certainly a strong group of “outdoorsy” folks who share a common bond for exploring and adventuring in the Midwest – we just haven’t gotten the chance to all meet each other yet.
I can’t wait to get together to discuss Chicago’s best biking, camping, hiking, backpacking, kayaking adventures (and so much more) and continue to build our network of outdoor-lovers in Chicago.
Live in Chicago? Join the brand new Chicago chapter here. Live somewhere else? Tell your Windy City friends!
Who: Anyone who loves to hike, kayak, ski, run, climb, and generally explore the great outdoors.
What: A happy hour with a twist to bring together the local outdoor community. Every month a new speaker will highlight local recreation opportunities. This month’s event will highlight Gear 101 for staying warm in Chicago this winter.
When: February 28, 2019, 6:30-9:00PM
1630 N. Damen Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
Cost: Free – just bring some guidebooks and maps to share!
For more information and to RSVP please see: https://mappyhour.org/events/2019/02/mappy-hour-chi-launch-party