While the weather was not perfect statewide, most Virginia State Park visitors enjoyed unseasonably warm weather to usher in the New Year with a First Day Hike. All of our Virginia State Parks participated in this statewide initiative from America's State Parks.
It snowed before November at Sky Meadows State Park but January 1
greeted park guests with balmy weather as these First Day Hikers wish a Happy New Year with the park's iconic view in the background
We are awaiting reports from a few more of our parks but so far we know more than 800 people hiked 1,600 miles. I am sure the grand total will be higher. [The final count was 1,962 participants for a total of 3,003 miles]. However, I did not want to delay reporting the winners of the First Day Hike contest. There were as many variations of hikes as there were Virginia State Parks. Some parks offered self-guided opportunities, others a guided trip led by staff or volunteers. At Westmoreland State Park, the hike ended at fossil beach where everyone could search for (and I heard they found) shark's teeth. Nearby Caledon Natural Area had a scavenger hunt where hikers sought a hidden Christmas ornament. Hikers at Bear Creek Lake State Park learned how to identify deciduous trees by their bark when the leaves are gone.
The contest grand prize winner is Henry Hosmer, Sr. who hiked at Sailor's Creek Battlefield Historical State Park. The hike was self-guided but included a twist that enabled visitors who completed the hike to earn a special park patch.
Hikers pose for a group shot at High Bridge Trail State Park, the newest
Virginia State Park and the hike with the most participants
(actually Mason Neck ended up with the highest attendance of 800!)
We also awarded each of five runners up a Virginia State Parks Naturally Yours Passport Plus Annual Parking Pass for a year's free entry to all our park and some discounts on merchandise, equipment rentals and camping. Those winners are:
Ellen Harpel who hiked at Belle Isle State Park
Ron Card who hiked at High Bridge Trail State Park
Patricia Herrera who hiked at Belle Isle State Park
Chris Saunders who hiked at Pocahontas State Park (with his wife and dog Murphy)
Susan Dommer who hiked at Leesylvania State Park
First Day Hike participants, staff and volunteers submitted some great photographs and comments from the event. Here is a slide show of the pictures.
The Friends of Bear Creek Lake State Park provided beverages, light refreshments and a "gently used" book sale for First Day Hikers at the park. Friends Group president Patty Elton described the folks who came out to participate in several events held by the park:
So who were these First Day Hike participants? They were folks from all walks of life; diverse as the many Virginia State Parks themselves. They were retired professionals who recently discovered stepping outside their suburban lifestyle afforded a whole new relaxing world. They were grandparents ensuring their grandchildren experience the same hallowed nature they were privileged to experience. They were locals who committed themselves to getting to know their own community a little better in the New Year. And last but not least, they were some of Virginia’s Master Naturalists adding to their repertoire of nature knowledge. A great time was had by all!
The Friends banner welcomes First Day Hikers for refreshments
at Bear Creek Lake State Park
Chief Ranger Lee Wilcox described some highlights from the hike he led at Smith Mountain Lake State Park:
In addition to the weather, Mother Nature also provided an excellent show within the forest as we marched along the trail. Hikers learned about tree succession, the Virginia Pine and Beech Trees. They saw woodpecker homes carved into dead, but still-standing trees. There were also trees with signs of woodpecker “scarring” resulting from the bird’s search for insects that the hikers were able to feel by rubbing their hands across the coarse surface of the bark.
Channel 7, WDBJ, posted a nice article on the event at Smith Mountain Lake State Park including a video. WTOP radio featured this story, and the Richmond Times Dispatch published this article and video.
I can promise you all that First Day Hikes have become a new tradition for welcoming in the New Year at Virginia State Parks.
High Bridge Trail hikers share New Year greetings