Americans across the country have found yet another way to celebrate the start of a New Year — this time in the great outdoors with a First Day Hike on Jan. 1.
In 2013, more than 22,000 people logged a total of 43,011 miles on guided First Day Hikes that took place in all 50 states.
So when New Year’s Day arrives in 2014, pull on your boots and put the children in the car because there’s likely a First Day Hike at a state park near you.
First Day Hikes originated more than 20 years ago in Massachusetts and are now promoted by the America’s State Parks alliance and the National Association of State Park Directors.
Recent hikes ranged from 1–9 miles. Most are only 1–2 miles long over family-friendly terrain. They tend to start midmorning or after lunch, giving people plenty of time for a leisurely arrival and allowing the sun to warm up the trail.
In 2013, all 36 Virginia state parks offered First Day Hikes. “The turn-outs have been huge, thousands of people statewide,” said Jim Meisner, Jr., of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Eighteen Pennsylvania state parks and 18 Maryland state parks participated, too.
About 130 people turned out for a 10 a.m. hike at Greenbrier State Park in Maryland. Rangers led the hikers in two separate groups on a one-mile path around the lake.
“It’s a good day to get everybody outside,” said ranger Chris Gleason-Smuck. “Our hike is accessible to everyone, even in wheelchairs. We talk about the changing seasons and the types of fish in the lake. We see Annapolis Rocks on Appalachian Trail and we talk about how groups maintain the Maryland sections.”
For 2014, the Greenbrier staff is organizing a few different start times and considering the addition of a more challenging hike to Annapolis Rocks or a 5-mile hike on one of the park’s popular trails.
Patapsco Valley State Park in Maryland has offered hikes themed around history, the falls and photography. Fort Frederick State Park explores New Year’s from an 18th-century perspective.
In Virginia, Twin Lakes State Park has planned a First Day GPS “poker hike” that helps people discover hidden cards along the trails that might build a winning hand. Caledon State Park will once again be struck by the infamous “Christmas Possum,” which leaves hidden ornaments along the trails for children to find. Fairy Stone State Park offers a 1.49 miles hike on Whiskey Run trail, where you’ll learn about local moonshining before the land became one of the six original Virginia state parks.
Gleason-Smuck enjoys First Day Hikes because he loves seeing so many people come out to explore the park. They, of course, are enjoying a holiday while Gleason-Smuck clocks in for work. “That’s fine with me,” he said. “I’m always happy to be in the woods.”
Find a First Day Hike Near You
A large number of parks offer First Day Hikes, so try contacting your favorite park directly. For a larger list, check the events calendar on your state park website. You’ll also find a searchable nationwide directory at www.americasstateparks.org/first-day-hikes.
West Virginia: www.wvstateparks.com