Park rangers in all 50 states are ready to help with those popular and perennial New Year’s resolutions — lose weight and get fit — with First Day Hikes.
The hikes started about 20 years ago in Massachusetts and went nationwide for the first time last year. More than 14,000 people participated in 2012.
The nearest hike for most Denton area residents is planned for the Lost Pines Trail at Ray Roberts Lake State Park’s Isle du Bois Unit.
“It’s a great hike and a great way to start the new year and try something new,” said Kelly Lauderdale, who will lead the Isle du Bois hike on Tuesday morning.
More than 40 hikes are planned in Texas, part of more than 650 hikes planned nationwide. An online locator map for all the hikes can be found at www.americasstateparks.org/first-day-hikes.
Priscilla Geiges, director of Massachusetts’s state parks and president of the National Association of State Park Directors, said the first First Day Hike was in 1992 at Blue Hills Reservation State Park, south of Boston.
In early 2011, Massachusetts parks officials challenged other park operators in the Northeast to plan similar programs, Geiges said, and by the end of the year, the challenge was issued nationwide.
Geiges watched the momentum build in a “reply-all” e-mail as state by state, rangers began announcing their plans for 2012. Being closer to home, state parks play host to many visitors, about 720 million last year, which is about 2 1/2 times as many visitors as the national parks, she said. But after the 2012 event, she heard from many rangers who reported new visitors, or visitors that had previously thought of their state parks as a “summer-only” excursion.
State parks are year-round operations, and hiking is a great way to enjoy them in all the seasons, Geiges said. Many hikes being planned are also appropriate for kids.
“You are out and about with people who appreciate the outdoors,” Geiges said.
Some parks are tailoring the hikes for the meaning of the day, too. For example, a Georgia hike includes a chance to write down, and then burn, last year’s burdens. A Colorado hike to a homestead includes vintage snacks. This year, organizers of a Hawaiian hike that climbs a mountainside are adding drums. The musicians will drum up the sunrise for the hikers, who will also pray a traditional Hawaiian prayer.
Some hikes will likely deliver what being outdoors is all about, Geiges said. Last year, hikers in Maryland watched a bear swim across a lake. At Estero Llano Grande State Park, near Hidalgo, visitors can once again spend part or all of the day on the Bird Buster 100, an all-day hike in search of 100 different kinds of birds.
“We want people to start the year out right,” Geiges said.
Not all hikes will be vigorous, Texas officials said. Most will be a one- to two-mile walk, and some will be leisurely. The Davis Mountains State Park plans a two-hour, 3.5-mile hike of moderate difficulty where the family dog, on a leash, will be welcome.
Lauderdale said she led about 35 people on a short hike through the Lost Pines Trail last year and plans a similar outing this year. The hike begins at 11 a.m.
“It’s an easy half-mile hike,” she said.
Lauderdale will talk about the flora and fauna in the area, including what to look for in the winter. Some of the hike will include a discussion of trees native to the area and how they fit into Texas heritage.
The hikes are free, but park visitors must pay entrance fees. The entrance fee for Isle du Bois is $7 for each person older than 12.
Rain and cold temperatures expected Sunday and Monday are supposed to move out of the area by New Year’s Day. The National Weather Service is calling for partly sunny skies and a high of 43 degrees Tuesday.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.