Free guided hikes Jan. 1 in parks in all 50 states
For more than 20 years, state park officials in Massachusetts have encouraged locals to get off the couch Jan. 1 and take a hike - nothing too strenuous, but a healthy way to start the new year.
Last year, a group called America's State Parks expanded the effort, called First Day Hikes, to all 50 states. The group hoped for 50 events but had no idea how many Americans would willingly skip New Year's Eve revelry in order to get up early Jan. 1 and hit the woods.
They ended up with 400 outings that drew 14,000 people, hiking a total of more than 30,000 miles. This year will be even bigger, with more than 600 events from a cross-country ski outing in Alaska to a sunrise hike in Hawaii.
"It's a way to promote a naturally healthy way of life but also to promote state parks as a year-round recreation option," said Priscilla Geigis, state parks director in Massachusetts and organizer of the national effort. "The park managers got people on hikes who live right there but who had never been to the parks during the winter."
Most First Day Hikes are moderate in difficulty, ranging from one to three miles. Some are on paved roads accessible to strollers and wheelchairs. All are free, though some parks have parking fees. Some hikes combine outdoor interests with history, such as a hike in Castlewood Canyon State Park in Colorado where hikers were greeted by volunteers dressed as 19th century homesteaders. In Massachusetts, hikers included Gov. Patrick Deval and his dog Tobey at Mount Greylock.
All First Day Hikes are guided by rangers who talk about wildlife, trees, nests and other natural phenomena in winter landscapes.
"People were blown away by the quality of the park rangers and the details they gave us," said Chris Saunders of Chesterfield, Va. With his wife, father-in-law and dog, he joined a group of more than 50 hikers in Pocahontas State Park in Virginia last January. "Every little thing - a rock, a tree - the rangers can tell a story about it."
In Maine last Jan. 1, hikes took place in four different types of terrain - at Popham Beach, Sebago Lake, Aroostook State Park in the northern interior and at Wolfe's Neck Woods State Park in Freeport, a coastal woodland.
"We were so happy when the First Day Hikes came along because we have been developing programs to get people into the state parks in winter," said Will Harris, director of Maine's Division of Parks and Public Lands. "This way, on Jan. 1, you can have people thinking about being outside from the first of the year."
State park officials are not the only ones organizing outdoor activities to start the new year off right. Many communities and athletic clubs organize races in local parks. Life Time Fitness, which operates fitness centers and programs, expects 100,000 people at 5-kilometer walks and runs in 28 cities Jan. 1. There are also polar bear plunges, where participants immerse themselves in chilly lakes and oceans on New Year's Day, held around the country from Seattle to Coney Island in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Organizations like the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Sierra Club and local groups like Nevada's Friends of Gold Butte also organize Jan. 1 hikes and events in many places. Even in New York City, outdoor clubs are offering New Year's Day outings to explore the north end of Manhattan and the shores of Staten Island.
Many individuals simply create their own outings to kick off the new year. Lincoln Fuller of Yarmouth, Maine, has been hiking up Mount Washington in New Hampshire each Jan. 1 with two friends for more than 10 years. He says they usually encounter dozens of others on the cold, windy mountain.
"It's always surprising to me how many people go up on New Year's Day to say, 'This would be a good way to start the year,'" he said.
Fuller says he's often asked by people why he would do such a thing in the middle of winter. His standard reply: "Well, there's no bugs."
All hikes take place on Tuesday, Jan. 1
Hammonasset Beach State Park
Where: Park is off Rte. 1 in Madison. Meet at Meigs Point Nature Center.
Degree of difficulty: Easy
Minimum age: 12 years old
Restrictions: No dogs.
Length of trail: 1.0 miles
Cancellation info: www.friendsofhammonasset.org or Don Rankin at (203) 245-9192.
Details: The walk will last about 1 hour with refreshments following. The atlatl will be demonstrated, archaeological exhibits and interpreters available at the nature center until 3 p.m.
Mansfield Hollow State Park
When: 11 a.m.
Where: Mansfield Hollow State Park recreation field, Bassetts Bridge Rd., Mansfield Center.
Degree of difficulty: Easy to moderate
Minimum age: Open to any age. Children 16 and under must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Restrictions: Dogs allowed, but must be on a leash
Length of trail: 4.5 miles
Cancellation info: Tune to WILI 1400 AM
Sleeping Giant State Park
When: 1:30 p.m.
Where: Meet at the bulletin board by the kiosk near the park entrance. 200 Carmel Ave., Hamden
Degree of difficulty: Difficult
Minimum age: Minors must be accompanied by a responsible adult and have signed permission of a parent or legal guardian.
Restrictions: Hikers should be in good physical condition. No pets.
Length of trail: 5 miles
Cancellation info: E-mail inquiries may be sent to SGPA Hiking Committee Chairman firstname.lastname@example.org
Osbornedale State Park, Kellogg Environmental Center
When: 1 p.m.
Where: Kellogg Environmental Center, 500 Hawthorne Ave., Derby
Degree of difficulty: Easy to strenuous
Minimum age: No age restictions, no strollers
Restrictions: Dogs welcome but must be on a leash.
Length of trail: 2.5 miles
Cancellation info: Call (203) 734-2513.
Source: America's State Parks; www.americasstateparks.org/first-day-hikes
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