By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Kansas City resident Vivian Faulkner didn’t mind making the four-hour round trip to Prairie State Park on New Year’s Day. She said she was rewarded with rare sights, sounds and feelings she couldn’t get anywhere else in the Midwest.
“I can’t even pick one thing out that I loved,” she said of a 1.6-mile trek across a portion of the park’s 4,000-acre tallgrass prairie in Barton County. “It was just the whole experience.”
She was among 20 hikers who showed up to participate in the park’s second First Day Hike. The tradition started more than 20 years ago at a state park in Massachusetts as a way to promote healthy lifestyles and year-round recreation at state parks, and has been catching on around the country.
Last year marked the first time all 50 state park systems participated, and more than 14,000 hikers cumulatively logged more than 30,000 miles, according to Priscilla Geigis, president of the National Association of State Park Directors. This year, the national event included 657 guided First Day Hikes.
At Prairie State Park, hikers were advised to dress for the weather as wind on the prairie can be biting in January.
“We’re focusing today on the prairie in winter, how animals and plants survive, the adaptations that they have,” said park naturalist Dana Hoisington as the hike began.
Jim Holyfield, of Carthage, and Kelly Holyfield, of Oronogo, said they thought it would be a fun father-son way to welcome the new year.
“We had our choice of going here or going to the Elks Club,” the elder Holyfield joked. “We thought if we came here, we at least might see some real elk.”
Although they spied no elk, they did catch glimpses of white-tailed deer as well as a herd of about 50 bison thundering across the prairie — something Hoisington said he had never seen in four years of working at the park.
Darcee Klenke, who drove with her husband, Luke, from Peculiar, said she had been to the park in July and was excited to see the contrasts of the winter.
“I learned a lot today,” she said. “It was worth it.”
At Roaring River State Park in Barry County, 19 hikers led by assistant park superintendent Kerry Hays used parts of three wooded trails between the Ozark Chinquapin Nature Center and the trout hatchery to complete 2.5 miles.
Snow and sleet for the first 10 minutes of the hike didn’t deter anyone, and families that had traveled from Cassville, Monett and Springfield were rewarded with views of bald eagles and great blue herons.
“Some of them had never seen eagles before, so they were excited,” Hays said.
Around the country
IN ALASKA, First Day Hike participants at Independence Mine State Historical Park were warned that they “must be able to classic ski a 10-degree slope using herringbone and snowplow techniques” to traverse a 2.5-mile trail that cuts through the Talkeetna Mountains.
AT THE SOUTHERN TIP OF FLORIDA, hikers were advised to wear comfortable shoes for walking in sand, and to bring bug spray, sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses for a quarter-mile hike along the Silver Palm Nature Trail at Bahia Honda State Park.