The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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December 26, 2013

First Day Hikes combine nature, fitness, traditions

Becky Gray isn’t exactly sure where she’ll wind up on New Year’s Day, but one thing is certain: It will be outside.

Gray, who lives in Girard, Kan., is one of thousands across the nation planning to bundle up and find a trail for a First Day Hike.

First Day Hikes originated more than 20 years ago at the Blue Hills Reservation, a state park near Milton, Mass. It evolved into a national effort by the America’s State Parks organization, designed to get people outdoors into state parks, starting with the first day of a new year.

Officials say hikers from all 50 states will participate at more than 700 locations on Jan. 1.

“Last year, First Day Hikes hosted 22,000 people, who covered nearly 44,000 miles in 700 state parks all across the country,” said Priscilla Geigis, president of the National Association of State Park Directors. The outings, she said, provide people with a chance to get outside and experience the beauty of the nation’s parks, stay fit, and build lasting traditions with family and friends.

On a First Day Hike, participants can expect to hike one to two miles through diverse natural areas, led by park rangers and volunteers. Many hikes include additional activities, such as campfires, s’mores, crafts, costume contests and storytelling.

Several guided First Day Hikes will be offered in the Four-State Area. Gray said she isn’t sure whether she’ll choose one of those or head out to a trail on her own — perhaps to Crawford State Park, near Farlington, Kan., or to the Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center in Joplin.

“Any day off work is a good day for a hike,” Gray said. “I like the idea of promoting winter hikes, because that’s when the hiking around here is really good. You don’t have to fight off the bugs or fight through heavy undergrowth.”

Gray said Kansas and Missouri in particular have a great deal of public land, and while it gets a great deal of use by hunters and anglers, “it’s also good for exploring by foot.”

Linda Lanterman, meanwhile, believes the First Day Hikes also achieve something else.

“First Day Hikes are a great way to start a new tradition that promotes a healthy beginning to the new year,” said Lanterman, who heads up the parks division of Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

Bill Bryan, director of Missouri State Parks, agrees.

“First Day Hikes offer families an opportunity to begin the new year connecting with the outdoors and getting great exercise,” he said. “We’ve had a great response with this program in previous years and hope even more Missourians will have the opportunity to enjoy our award-winning trails on Jan. 1.”

Lewis Ledford, executive director of the National Association of State Park Directors, said the hikes serve as an annual reminder of the value of state parks to the well-being of children.

“Getting kids outside and unplugged from their electronics promotes their physical and mental health, and inspires stewardship of our natural world for future generations,” he said.

Nationally, featured hikes include a candlelight walk during Alaska’s darkest time of year, a horseback ride along Indiana’s Tippecanoe River, an interpretive trek along the longleaf pine forest at Florida’s Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park, a guided exploration of the wide-open desert hills of West Texas, and a sunrise tour of Hawaii’s sweeping ocean views.

In Kansas, six hikes are planned on trails across the state, including one with a walk-through 3-D archery shoot at Tuttle Creek State Park near Manhattan. Others include Clinton State Park, Elk City State Park, Kaw River State Park, Perry State Park and Green Recreational Trail at Pratt.

In Oklahoma, parks taking part include Lake Eufaula State Park, Lake Murray State Park, Foss State Park, Osage Hills State Park and Keystone State Park.

In Missouri, 44 state parks will offer guided hikes ranging from a half-mile to two miles and varying from thick forests to open prairie. In Southwest Missouri, that list includes Prairie State Park, near Mindenmines, and Roaring River State Park, near Cassville.

People planning to enjoy a First Day Hike should dress appropriately for the weather.

“Winter hiking is a fun and wonderful experience, but does require all hikers to be properly prepared,” said Gregory Miller, president of the American Hiking Society.

If you are hiking without a guided group, that means not only dressing appropriately, but also telling someone else where you’re headed and about what time you’ll be back, and carrying a cellphone, basic first aid supplies, a snack and water.



On the Net

A COMPLETE LIST of hiking tips can be found at www.americanhiking.org/cold-weather-hiking. Participants are encouraged to log their First Day Hike adventures on social media with #firstdayhikes.

A COMPLETE LIST of Missouri state parks with guided First Day Hikes, along with descriptions of each trail and the length of time the hike will take, is available at www.mostateparks.com/page/59235/first-day-hikes.

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