Celebrate the New Year with a First-Day HikeNov 27, 2016 05:26PM ● By Melanie Heisinger
By Darrin Youker
John Jakoby has led first-day hikes since the early 1990s—before it became a national movement. Recently, as more attention is paid to the need to get outside and exercise, hiking organizations have promoted New Year’s Day hikes as a way to start the new year on the right foot, and make a renewed commitment to healthy living.
Across the country, hundreds of New Year’s Day hikes are planned at state parks in all 50 states. And no matter where you are in Pennsylvania, chances are there’s a hike close to home.
Last year, state parks across the country hosted 11,000 events, with nearly 56,000 participants—who walked a combined total of 130,000 miles, said Wesley Trimble, program outreach and communications manager American Hiking Society, which helps promote New Year’s Day hiking events.
“It’s really geared to getting people outside,” Trimble said. “There’s a lot of energy around New Year’s Day, so it’s a great opportunity for people to get outside and do something different.”
Nature of the beast
These are not rigorous, day-long jaunts through the woods. Instead, they’re designed as family-friendly rambles that provide an excellent introduction to the outdoor recreation opportunities available in Pennsylvania’s state park system.
John Jakoby, a state park volunteer, will be leading such a hike at Nescopeck State Park in Luzerne County. It’s an opportunity for Jakoby to get out with like-minded hikers and ornithologists and explore the winter woods, and the beauty of the state’s park system.
“It’s all done in two hours, and it’s not done at a fast pace,” Jakoby said. “We accommodate people. It’s not just for [experienced] hikers.”
On the right foodThe hope for event organizers is that families and others will make first-day hikes a yearly tradition.
At Caledonia State Park in Franklin County, organizers are planning to incorporate Pennsylvania’s renowned New Year’s Day tradition, borrowed from the Germans—eating pork and sauerkraut—by serving hot dogs and sauerkraut for participants. The idea came from a local family who make a tradition of hiking at Caledonia and then eating the lucky New Year’s Day meal in a park pavilion, said Phillip Schmidt, park manager.
“The idea is to start the first day of the year off on the right foot,” Schmidt said. “To get out and enjoy the woods, regardless of the weather.”
For those that really want to get a jump on New Year’s resolutions—and looking for a different way to ring in the New Year—Presque Isle State Park is offering a healthy alternative. The park—which juts into Lake Erie and offers a sweeping view of the lake and the city of Erie—is hosting a late-night hike. Park guides will lead participants on a walk around flat trails, and pause to ring in the New Year at midnight.
If you go
Here’s a look at just a few of the parks hosting New Year’s Day hikes in Pennsylvania:
Hikers will take in the park through a 2-mile hike that provides glimpses of Black Moshannon Lake. If weather permits, snow shoes will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis. The park’s lake is shallow, which means it forms ice more quickly, said Jessica LeVelva, park manager. The ability to ice fish, and take advantage of the groomed trails, makes this Centre County park an excellent destination for winter, she said.
The first-day hike is a great introduction to what the park has to offer, LeVelva said. “Any time that you can get outside and get fresh air in the winter time is time well spent,” she said. “In the winter, you can really get outside and enjoy it.”
Hikers will take in 2.2 miles of park trails—including a short jaunt on the Appalachian Trail. Participants will see the remains of an old raceway that fed the iron furnace in what once was the Caledonia Iron Works. “You’ll have the chance to see the history of early industry,” Schmidt said.
Last year, 65 people took advantage of the brisk weather and snow-free trails.
Those looking to get out and stay active in the winter will find plenty to do at Hills Creek State Park, including on New Year’s Day. The park, which partners with a local outdoor outing organization, will host a 1.5-mile family fun hike and a 5k fun run. The route for the hike will depend on weather conditions.
Located in the rolling hills of Tioga County, Hills Creek does not have the rugged terrain of other nearby parks, making it an excellent place for winter activities, said Tim Morey, a natural resource specialist at Hills Creek.
The New Year’s Day hike and 5k run kick off a winter outing series held in conjunction with the park and Step Outdoors, which organizes outdoor events. “It’s a really great group that is committed to staying active, and their mission falls in line with ours,” Morey said.
The 3-mile hike will take in much that Nescopeck has to offer, including Francis Lake, Nescopeck Creek and a variety of trails. Those trails wind through evergreen and deciduous forests, where keen-eyed hikers can see winter birds, and maybe even some winter growth on plants, Jakoby said. “When we go out, we try and discover things,” he said. Last year, 80 people participated in the hike.
To learn more about first day hikes visit: www.naspd.org/initiatives-special-programs/first-day-hikes/
Darrin Youker writes from his home in Adams County.