BOSTON (AP) — After a hike in a Massachusetts park more than three decades ago, a simple plan to get more people outside on New Year’s Day became a nationwide movement.
In 1992, only 380 people took part in the first First Day Hike at the nearly 7,000-acre Blue Hills Reservation just south of Boston. Tens of thousands of people are expected to participate in First Day Hikes at hundreds of parks across all 50 states on Sunday.
According to park officials and participants, a vigorous walk is a great way to start the new year on the right foot — literally — and get outside, enjoy nature, spend time with family and friends, and maybe start working on that New Year’s resolution to get in shape.
“It’s all about mind, body, and soul,” said Rodney Franklin, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s director of parks.
The original plan was devised by the late Patrick Flynn, a former supervisor at Blue Hills.
“He wanted to find a way to bring people into the parks in the winter because so many people think of parks as only being in the summer,” said Priscilla Geigis, deputy commissioner for conservation and resource stewardship at the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Steve Olanoff, 77, participated in the first Blue Hills event in 1992 and is now a volunteer who shepherds hikers along the park’s trails each year.
“There was nothing to do on New Year’s Day back then,” he recalled. “Everyone just sat at home and watched TV. When I heard about the opportunity to go hiking, I thought, ‘Well, I’ll try that.’ It’s incredible that so many people are doing this now.”
More Massachusetts state parks joined in over time. Then parks in other states joined in. When the National Association of State Park Directors endorsed the idea in 2012, First Day Hikes became a national phenomenon.
“It just goes to show that one person can have an idea that spreads so quickly,” Geigis said.
Some states have thrown in their own twists. Participants can go for a first-day run, bike ride, or paddle in a canoe or kayak at Ink Lake State Park in Burnet County, Texas, northwest of Austin.
Some Oregon locations may require snowshoes or cross-country skis, according to Jason Resch, marketing manager for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. Elijah Bristow State Park near Eugene even has a first-day horseback ride available.
“Just bring your own horse,” said Resch.
Some hikes are led by park rangers or volunteers who teach about the park’s history, geography, flora, and fauna. This, in turn, promotes stewardship and a commitment to protecting parks and open spaces, according to Geigis. Many locations provide refreshments.
People of all skill levels are also welcome.
“We want to appeal to as many people as we can,” Franklin explained. “So you’ll have some of our hikes that are short and take place on paved, flat surfaces, but if you want a brisk, longer hike, you can do that.”
According to Elizabeth Massa, president of the Western Mass Hilltown Hikers, who leads the 1.5-mile hike, families with babies, seniors, and people with dogs have all participated in the First Day Hike at the Chester Blandford State Forest in Massachusetts.
“If your New Year’s resolution is to get more exercise, lose weight, or become healthier, this is your chance,” she says.