In crisp, clear winter weather, the fourth annual First Day Hikes in North Carolina’s state parks set a record that will be hard to top in coming years; 2,980 hikers covered a combined 7,010 miles on park trails in just a few hours of winter daylight.
The 49 guided hikes ranged from modest “leg-stretchers” on easy interpretive trails to a six-mile trek from Crowders Mountain State Park into South Carolina on the Ridgeline Trail. High-elevation hikers at Elk Knob and Mount Mitchell were undeterred by wind chills in the 20’s, while many on the coast were blessed with shirtsleeve weather in the afternoon.
At Haw River State Park, 62 visitors were the first ever to walk a new, 3.2-mile trail to be opened for regular public use later in 2015. It meanders through a 692-acre tract acquired from real estate development company Bluegreen in 2008 that lies just west of the park’s Summit Environmental Education Center. The interim development on the property will introduce traditional state park facilities at Haw River.
At Pettigrew State Park, visitors watched wintering tundra swans, while at Lake James they explored an old homestead. A selection of companion dogs was common on most of the hikes, but at Pilot Mountain, hikers shared the trail with a pair of llamas brought by their owners from a local farm.
Of course, attendance was highest at Eno River State Park, where a popular New Year’s Day hike staged by the Eno River Association has long been a tradition. The park had 702 visitors enjoying two leisurely hikes and fellowship. Elsewhere, attendance was highest at Raven Rock State Park (243), Haw River State Park (123), Dismal Swamp State Park (105) and Fort Macon State Park (101).
Rangers at many parks reported full parking lots throughout the day, suggesting that visitors registered for First Day Hikes were just a slice of total attendance on the first day of 2015. At Medoc Mountain, Ranger Ryan Newsome suggested his 33 hikers make it a New Year’s resolution to get out and hike in a state park at least once a month, and several families agreed to take on that challenge.
Here’s a photo gallery of First Day Hikes 2015. Click on any photo to begin.