W.Va. parks offering First Day Hikes

CHARLESTON, W.Va.-- If you're looking for a refreshing way to shake off the winter doldrums and burn off a few hundred holiday calories, the West Virginia State Parks system has a guided hike planned to help you start the New Year  on the right foot ... and the left foot.Kanawha State Forest, Blackwater Falls State Park, Cacapon Resort State Park and Pipestem Resort State Park are among hundreds of state parks across the nation to host First Day Hikes -- guided family friendly outings usually a mile or two in length through scenic natural areas.The hikes, all held on New Year's Day, drew 22,000 people to 700 state parks in all 50 states last year. America's State Parks and the American Hiking Society sponsor the program, now in its third year.The national First Day Hikes program traces its roots to a series of New Year's Day hikes held annually, starting 23 years ago, at Blue Hills Reservation, a park in Milton, Mass."People are determined not to be kept inside, regardless of the weather," said Ken Long, office manager at Kanawha State Forest, which is hosting its third First Day Hike on Jan. 1. "One year, we had 125 hikers.""In the winter, there are fewer people out on the trails, and here in the East, where we have deciduous forests and the leaves have fallen, you get more spectacular views. You can see the surrounding landscape in a different way," said Gregory Miller, president of the American Hiking Society."There's a different ecology in winter," said Long. "You can see some birds that you don't see during the warmer months, like winter wrens and red-headed woodpeckers." Miller said research by the Outdoor Industry Association indicates that hiking as a recreational activity in America has grown five to six percent during the past 8 years, with most of the growth coming from day-hikers, rather than backpackers."Anyone can be a hiker," Miller said. "You don't have to go into the back country to have a memorable experience in nature. Most people live within a few miles of a trail that will take them through a natural area."Miller said he hopes the First Day Hikes program "will instill a desire in people to get up and get out on a trail" during all seasons of the year.
"What a great way to start a year," he said. "For those of us who have eaten too much over the holidays and haven't been out much, an hour or two hike will make everyone feel better."Assuming that wintry weather prevails on Jan. 1, Miller advises First Day hikers to dress in layers, wear a hat, and be sure to carry water. "You can still sweat on winter hikes and become dehydrated," he said.Long said Kanawha State Forest's First Day Hike, to be led by Assistant Superintendent Kevin Dials, will begin at 2 p.m. on Jan. 1, from the forest's swimming pool parking lot.A hike of about three miles is planned, following sections of Davis Creek Trail, Rattlesnake Trail, Border Road, and Crabapple Trail. For more information, call the park office at 304-558-3800.At Blackwater Falls State Park, a First Day Hike along Elakala Trail begins at 10 a.m., taking hikers along the rim of Blackwater Canyon, past some large sandstone formations, and along a section of Shay Run. Stops will be made along the way to discuss the canyon's history and flora and fauna.
Sturdy boots and shoes are recommended, since the trail may be icy or snow covered. Soup, sandwiches and hot meals will be available after the hike at Blackwater's lodge restaurant. For more information, call 304-259-5216.At Cacapon Resort State Park, a 1.5-mile hike along Ridge Trail, led by the park's naturalist, will depart from the Nature Center at 10 a.m. For more details, call 304-258-1022.Pipestem Resort State Park's First Day Hike will be a 1.5-2-mile hike to Long Branch Lake, led by program director Kim Hawkins. Participants should meet in the McKeever Lodge lobby at 1 p.m. For information, call 304-466-1800.For cold weather hiking tips, visit the American Hiking Society's website at www.americanhiking.org/cold-weather-hiking.Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169. 
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