From a blustery push to Mount Mitchell’s summit and the lip of Hanging Rock to a leisurely stroll on Bear Island’s beach, hikers were out in force Jan. 1 for First Day Hikes held throughout the state parks system. In all, 2,627 hikers (and about a dozen dogs) covered 5,254 miles on state park trails.
The statewide event in its third year was blessed with good weather. Fifty hikes were staged at the 40 state parks and state recreation areas as well as Mount Jefferson State Natural Area. Of course, attendance was highest at Eno River State Park, where a New Year’s Day hike has been a tradition for decades. The park had 599 hikers, effectively making the event somewhat of a parade along the trails. Elsewhere, attendance was highest at William B. Umstead State Park (170), Raven Rock State Park (148) and Jordan Lake State Natural Area (123), at its New Hope Overlook Trail.
The most “experienced” hikers may have been Dan and Dot Jones who appeared at Raven Rock. Dan, 91, and his wife, 86, are both avid walkers. He remains an active scout leader and enjoys hiking the Appalachian Trail. A native of the area, he helped build the park’s overlook in the late 1970s.
A special guest at New River was Allmuth “Curly” Perzel, a longtime friend of the park who was a hike co-leader. Perzel is a German native who holds a Triple Crown Award, the most prestigious U.S. hiking accolade, for completing the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. The three combine for more than 8,000 miles, and there are fewer than 200 people who’ve hiked it all.
The event was a special “first” at Carvers Creek State Park in Cumberland County, which opened in September. Seventy-one hikers showed for the First Day Hike, led by Superintendent Jane Conolly and Bill Stanley, who is one of a crew of Americorps members helping with interpretive and education programs in the parks this year. Stanley arrived at the park in December and had crammed on details about James Stillman Rockefeller and his 1,000-acre estate, which is a central component of the new park.