Hiking Your Way Toward Meaningful Social Impact

Imagine hiking through Starved Rock State Park, mesmerized by the beauty of the many canyons and waterfalls throughout one of Central Illinois’ most spectacular natural gems. It’s an incredible feeling until you notice some trash left by irresponsible visitors.

For those who truly appreciate the beauty of nature, encountering this unsightly refuse is both infuriating and frustrating.

Hikers Inc., a website and mobile app that fosters practical information for park visitors, along with opportunities for responsible, sustainable enjoyment, is the brainchild of Bradley students Devin Soldati, a kinesiology and health science major, and Matthew Klein, a management and leadership major. Along with help from their friend Kyle Petersen, a student at Olivet Nazarene University, the team’s work was the winning entry at this week’s third annual Social Impact Challenge, hosted by Bradley’s Turner School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

“I really noticed the issues at the park the last time I hiked there with some friends from Bradley that came to my hometown to experience Starved Rock for the first time,” said Soldati. “They loved the waterfalls and sandstone, but we all noticed a significant amount of litter throughout the trails.”

What makes this project unique is how it creates ways to promote sustainability and responsible visiting, such as voluntary clean-up and recycling. These efforts can be shared with friends and other users, leading to the potential for fun competition. Another benefit comes from social media as hikers share their trekking information.

Eventually, the team hopes to coordinate with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to have weigh stations and recycling points throughout the park to facilitate the competition – and clean-up. Future plans include expanding the project to other parks, merging sustainability practices with business savvy.

“We are excited to move forward with our plans, as we just launched our website and social media channels,” said Klein. “The funds from the award allows us to stay on schedule and focus our attention on the business.”

“We grew up right next to Starved Rock State Park and between the three of us, we have been to the park over 100 times,” continued Klein. “The park receives millions of visitors each year and features some of the most natural, unique, and beautiful areas in the whole Midwest. We aim to further the preservation of the park through participation, education, and partnerships.”

Coming in second was 50K Website, an online course that teaches how to create profitable websites to promote economic empowerment. Rounding out the winners in third was Eco-bunk, led by a team of international students, to create living spaces from repurposed shipping containers and recycled construction materials.

Some media in Bradley University's current print, video and online materials was acquired before the COVID-19 pandemic. Media acquired after the pandemic began was done so in compliance with Bradley's COVID-19 safety protocols at the time. The ongoing safety of our faculty, staff and students is of the utmost concern during these unprecedented times.