This New Year’s, hit the ground hiking: join New Hampshire State Parks for First Day Hikes, an annual event organized by state parks nationwide to offer free guided hikes to the public on Jan. 1.
New Hampshire will host four hikes, in Hollis, Portsmouth, Jaffrey and Lancaster.
First Day Hikes was first held in 1992 at Blue Hills State Reservation in Milton, Mass., to promote outdoor recreation and raise awareness of the park. New Hampshire adopted the idea five years ago, and as of 2012, all 50 states participate in what is now officially known as America’s State Parks First Day Hikes. The 2015 event saw a national total of 997 hikes, a record-breaking 41,153 hikers and 79,892 miles hiked, according to the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.
“[The state parks] wanted to have something on New Year’s Day that would give people an incentive to get outside, visit the parks and have a good start to the year,” said Amy Bassett, public relations manager for NH State Parks. “Our goal is for people to continue doing this. We want them to think, ‘Hey, we have the day off, let’s go take a hike.’”
The hikes vary in difficulty and distance, but since a large number of participants are families, most hikes are beginner-level. Depending on the hikers’ interest, some guides will stop along the way to point out wildlife and share tidbits about nature. Snacks and refreshments will be available after each hike, along with a bonfire at all except the Portsmouth site.
What makes First Day Hikes in the Granite State unique, Bassett said, is its wide selection of hiking destinations. At the 2016 event, the Monadnock region, the White Mountains, the Seacoast and the Merrimack Valley will all be represented.
“We try to offer more locations for people and include hikes in different parts of the state,” Bassett said. “You could be in a park forest or you could be at the ocean, so there’s a lot of diversity.”
The hike at Silver Lake State Park in Hollis will be co-guided by the Beaver Brook Nature Center staff. Beaver Brook has hosted its own New Year’s Day hikes in the past, but this will be its first time partnering with First Day Hikes.
“We like showing people how many great trails there are around and how many opportunities there are to unplug from their electronic devices and be more active outdoors,” said Celeste Barr, education and community affairs director at Beaver Brook.
Participants at the Hollis hike will explore the park’s nature loop around Silver Lake, then journey onto Hollis Conservation Land, which overlooks the Woodmont apple orchards. The full course is a couple of miles, but those looking for an easier option can just do the nature loop, which is around half a mile.
Barr said she hopes First Day Hikes will increase awareness of Silver Lake State Park, especially among those living in Manchester and Nashua who may not have guessed there was such an easy and accessible hiking destination nearby.
“It’s hard to get people outside, especially when it’s cold, but they’re more apt to when they know of a place to go,” Barr said. “Once people come [to a guided hike], then they can go back and do it on their own because they know, ‘I can park here, and I can take this route here,’ and they’re more comfortable with it.”