“Just hold onto the fence,” says Christa Kroboth, a bubbly woman with wavy dirty-blond hair, a water bottle and flashlight dangle from her loaded backpack.
She follows a chain-link fence down a steep slope leading into Sunnybrook Park. A group of middle-aged singles — four men and three women — follow her down.
A Stroll in the Park, Kroboth’s somewhat deceptively named walking club, can get a little more intense than you might expect. From steep hills to icy winter terrain, the groups head out in all kinds of conditions. For the past 20 years, Kroboth has organized walks for singles who want to explore Toronto’s huge network of parks and ravines, but don’t want to venture out alone.
She knows first-hand how dangerous the city’s parks can be if you’re on your own. When she was 17 years old, she was biking in High Park in the middle of the day (a family was picnicking close by), when she was attacked in a public washroom. Before she got to the door on her way out, a man jumped from behind a partition and grabbed her. She managed to get a hold of his Adam’s apple, squeezed it and was able to escape. But from then on, High Park didn’t seem so inviting.
Years later, having developed into an avid environmentalist campaigning for Greenpeace, Kroboth decided to launch A Stroll in the Park. She figured she couldn’t be the only single woman hoping to take advantage of the city’s green spaces. She posted an ad in a local weekly paper, inviting single nature lovers to join her for a walk in High Park. She’s since branched out to 16 of the city’s parks, and has made excursions to Algonquin, Niagara, Banff and some to international destinations.
Like a true environmentalist, Kroboth doesn’t own a car. So all her Toronto walks start at a TTC station. And her routes are carefully planned to hit a few washrooms along the way. “Because I’m a woman,” she laughs.
Playing matchmaker wasn’t originally her goal. But romantic types do tend to enjoy long walks in the park, so she’s seen a lot of singles leave as doubles — and gets wedding pictures and thank-yous in the mail. She’s even lost a few boyfriends to others by bringing them on the walks.
“It’s like a hobby gone wrong!” she says. But doesn’t seem bitter.