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Start the year with a hike in a state park

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State parks officials want West Virginians to get 2013 off to a running start -- well, actually a walking start.

They've scheduled "First Day Hikes" for New Year's Day at Blackwater Falls, Cacapon and Twin Falls state parks, and at Kanawha State Forest. The hikes, a 20-year tradition at parks throughout the country, proved quite popular last year when they were introduced in the Mountain State.

"We had right at 100 people show up for our hike," said Kevin Dials, assistant superintendent at Kanawha State Forest. "We had good weather, and we hiked up the CCC Snipe Trail to Mossy Rock, and on to Middle Ridge."

In fact, Dials said the planned 3-mile hike ended up turning into a 6-miler.

"We tweaked it so it will be shorter this year," he said, chuckling.

Dials believes this year's hike will be more interesting because of the havoc 2012's two major storms wreaked on the forest.

"There's visible damage from last June's derecho and from Hurricane Sandy in October," he said. "The hike will be a good opportunity to see how storms like that can affect a forest."

In keeping with the First Hikes nationwide model, West Virginia's hikes will focus more on exercise and enjoying the outdoors than about nature.

"The hikes are intended to get folks out and get them active, to work off some of the goodies eaten during the holidays," Dials said.

"We look at them as a chance to make a resolution to be more active and healthy during the year, and to use public lands more. We want folks to know the forest is here, and is usable even at times of the year when they think it's too cold."

The hike isn't technically a nature walk, but Dials said he would be happy to oblige if hikers ask him to interpret plants, wildlife or natural phenomena.

"The idea is to get outdoors and have a good time," he said.

The Kanawha State Forest hike will begin at 2 p.m. from the swimming pool parking lot. Dials said hikers should dress in layers and appropriately for the conditions; wear warm, sturdy shoes; bring water and, if needed, a snack.

Sissie Summers, programming coordinator for the Division of Natural Resources' Parks Section, commended Dials and other park workers who lead and help with the hikes.

"Our major parks have big dinners and dances on the 31st. To have folks to roll out and lead a hike is asking a lot of them, but they're enthusiastic about it," Summers said.

Naturalist Paulita Cousin will lead the hike at Blackwater Falls State Park. The three-hour trek, scheduled to start at 10 a.m., will take hikers from the Sled Run Parking Area to scenic Lindy Point. If the area gets as much snow as usual around Jan. 1, snowshoes might be needed.

Renee Fincham, Cacapon State Park's naturalist, will lead the Cacapon hike. Participants should gather at the Cacapon Nature Center a little before 10 a.m. The hilly 1 1/2-mile hike will follow the park's Ridge Trail.

Naturalist Bryan Danford will lead Twin Falls State Park's hike along the Twin Falls Nature Trail. The 2-hour trek will depart from the Nature Trail parking lot at 11:30 a.m.

More information about the hikes is posted on the park system's website, www.wvstateparks.com.

Park personnel can be contacted directly by calling 304-558-3500 for Kanawha State Forest; 304-259-5216 for Blackwater Falls; 304-258-1022, ext. 5209 for Cacapon; and 304-294-4000 for Twin Falls.

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.


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