Looking for a way to draw more winter visitors to the Massachusetts state parks system, Patrick Flynn, supervisor of Blue Hills Reservation State Park near Milton, Massachusetts, came up with the idea of hosting a guided hike in his park on New Year’s Day of 1992.
Flynn thought that providing an opportunity to get people outside, exercising and connecting with nature would draw at least a few people to his park to ring in the new year, and he was right. A total of 388 people showed up for the hike, which was duplicated on Jan. 1 the following year at several other state parks in his home state.
By 2012, the First Day Hikes program created by Flynn was adopted by the National Association of State Park Directors, and included more than 400 hikes across the nation, including four in West Virginia. Last year, almost 55,000 people in 50 states rang in the new year by taking a First Day Hike, logging a collective 133,000 trail miles.
On Tuesday, First Day Hikes will take place at six West Virginia state parks, plus Kanawha State Forest.
“Our parks and forests are known for their trails and beautiful scenery, and hiking is the number-one activity that park visitors enjoy,” said West Virginia State Parks Chief Sam England. “Hiking is a year-round activity and the experience is different each time, depending upon the season and temperature.”
Over the years, individual First Day Hikes in West Virginia have drawn anywhere from one to more than 200 hikers. On New Year’s Day of 2018, Watoga State Park’s Chris Bartley led the one lone hiker who turned up for the Pocahontas County park’s zero-degree First Day hike on a frozen trail as scheduled.
“We’re venturing out on the first day of the year in 2019 no matter what the weather,” Bartley said. “If we have folks show, we go.”
About 200 hikers took part in last year’s First Day Hike at Kanawha State Forest, which traditionally draws the state’s most participants due to its proximity to Charleston.
First Day hikers are urged to arrive 15 to 20 minutes prior to their hike’s starting time, and to bring water and wear hats, gloves, layers of clothing and sturdy hiking boots. Hikes will end at their starting points. Those taking part in the event will receive First Day Hike patches upon completion of their hikes.
West Virginia’s First Day hikes include:
- Kanawha State Forest, starting at 2 p.m. from Picnic Shelter No. 5, led by Superintendent Kevin Dials and volunteers.
- Chief Logan State Park, 10 a.m. from the park office/Museum in the Park, led by naturalist Lauren Cole.
- Pipestem State Park, 1 p.m. from McKeever Lodge Lobby, led by naturalist Julie McQuade.
- Watoga State Park, 10 a.m. from the park’s picnic shelter, led by naturalist Chris Bartley.
- Tygart Lake State Park, 1 p.m. from lobby of Tygart Lake Lodge, led by naturalist Jacob Jackson.
- Cacapon State Park, 10 a.m., for each of two hikes, both of which depart from the lobby of Cacapon Lodge, led by naturalist Valerie Chaney and volunteers.
- Blackwater Falls State Park, 10 a.m from the park’s Nature Center, led by naturalist Paulita Cousin.