CHARLESTON, W.Va.-- If you're looking for a refreshing way to shake off the winter doldrums and burn off a few hundred holiday calories, the West Virginia State Parks system has a guided hike planned to help you start the New Year on the right foot ... and the left foot.
Kanawha State Forest, Blackwater Falls State Park, Cacapon Resort State Park and Pipestem Resort State Park are among hundreds of state parks across the nation to host First Day Hikes -- guided family friendly outings usually a mile or two in length through scenic natural areas.
The hikes, all held on New Year's Day, drew 22,000 people to 700 state parks in all 50 states last year. America's State Parks and the American Hiking Society sponsor the program, now in its third year.
The national First Day Hikes program traces its roots to a series of New Year's Day hikes held annually, starting 23 years ago, at Blue Hills Reservation, a park in Milton, Mass.
"People are determined not to be kept inside, regardless of the weather," said Ken Long, office manager at Kanawha State Forest, which is hosting its third First Day Hike on Jan. 1. "One year, we had 125 hikers."
"In the winter, there are fewer people out on the trails, and here in the East, where we have deciduous forests and the leaves have fallen, you get more spectacular views. You can see the surrounding landscape in a different way," said Gregory Miller, president of the American Hiking Society.
"There's a different ecology in winter," said Long. "You can see some birds that you don't see during the warmer months, like winter wrens and red-headed woodpeckers."
Miller said research by the Outdoor Industry Association indicates that hiking as a recreational activity in America has grown five to six percent during the past 8 years, with most of the growth coming from day-hikers, rather than backpackers.
"Anyone can be a hiker," Miller said. "You don't have to go into the back country to have a memorable experience in nature. Most people live within a few miles of a trail that will take them through a natural area."
Miller said he hopes the First Day Hikes program "will instill a desire in people to get up and get out on a trail" during all seasons of the year.