Despite a chilly drizzle throughout North Carolina and some ice-glazed roads in the mountains, 417 people celebrated a new year Jan. 1 with First Day Hikes in the state parks. A New Year’s Day hike was scheduled in every state park and state recreation area as part of an event that’s becoming an annual tradition of rejuvenation and good health.
Altogether, there were 44 hikes arranged by rangers, covering 1,135 miles in North Carolina. This is the second year for the First Day Hikes event, sponsored in conjunction with America’s State Parks and the National Association of State Park Directors. Nationally, more than 20,000 people were counted on 650 hikes during the day.
“Exploring the year-round splendor of nature is quickly becoming a New Year’s Day tradition,” said Lewis Ledford, state parks director. “The ranger-guided hikes are an excellent way to keep fit during the holidays, connect with nature and develop a deeper appreciation for our rich natural resources.”
Rangers worked to provide variety in the hikes. The most ambitious was at Hanging Rock State Park, where nine visitors took on the “Five Overlooks Challenge,” a 10-mile excursion across the park’s highest peaks. The hike launched a new tradition at that park: any visitor who completes the challenge in a single day is eligible to purchase an embroidered patch for bragging purposes.
At Weymouth Woods Historic Nature Preserve, 20 hikers trekked to see the world’s oldest longleaf pine, while at Grandfather Mountain State Park, hikers braved a steep, snow-covered trail for a “sensory hike” which taught them how to use all their senses in the outdoors.
The oldest hiker of the day was 85-year-old Jack Bane, who came to Morrow Mountain State Park for a brief morning walk and was inspired to stay for an afternoon tour as well.
And, in a class by itself was the event at Eno River State Park, where 147 people extended a New Year’s Day tradition begun more than 40 years ago by the Eno River Association. Long- and short-version hikes were led by volunteers and followed by hot chocolate and fellowship.