For years, two of the most popular New Year’s resolutions have been to begin a fitness program, and spend more time in nature. Now, for the second year in a row, you can combine both by participating in First Day Hikes at a Texas State Park near you on Jan. 1.
The second-annual First Day Hikes program is part of a national umbrella coordination by the National Association of State Parks Directors (NASPD) to encourage a new tradition at the beginning of each year to get people outdoors, and promote the numerous physical and emotional benefits of hiking.
During the inaugural year of First Day Hikes at the start of 2012, more than 1,100 people showed up at 47 state parks across Texas. For 2013—which is just a few weeks away—more hikes and locations are scheduled, and they range from short, leisurely walks, to birding hikes, to nature tours along the Gulf Coast, to challenging treks in mountainous terrain.
“In addition to drawing new users to parks on January First, we hope to see return visitors from last year as families start to embrace First Day Hikes as a beloved tradition from year to year,” said Interpretive Services Assistant Director Karen Blizzard, the Texas coordinator for First Day Hikes.
Most all hikes will be guided by state park staff or expert volunteers and feature an interpretive message about native plants, animals or park history. The walks average one to two miles in length, but many also offer shorter or longer trek options as well.
Participants will want to make some modest advance preparations. Some hikes warrant call-ahead reservations, and in most instances, folks will want to wear sturdy shoes, and bring drinking water and a hiking stick. Park entrance fees apply in most places, and many parks are leading the First Day Hike at no extra cost.
Recent on-site visitor surveys in Texas parks revealed that hiking / trails were the most sought-after amenity by park visitors, and many Texas state parks have added newly built or recently improved hiking and biking trails in order to meet growing demand.
The concept of having an official “First Day Hike” in a park on New Year’s Day originated more than 20 years ago at the Blue Hills Reservation, a state park in Milton, Massachusetts, with the intent to promote both wellness and year-round recreation at parks. Since then, other states have offered similar New Year’s programs. It has, however, grown into a nationwide event today, with most state park systems participating.
For more information about First Day Hikes in Texas State Parks, visit the Web site at http://www.texasstateparks.org/firstdayhikes, which lists detailed hike locations, descriptions, and park contact information. For national participation in First Day Hikes, visit the NASPD Web site at http://www.americasstateparks.org.