BOSTON — A simple plan to get more people outside on New Year’s Day has become a national movement after a walk in a Massachusetts park more than three decades ago.
Just 380 people participated in the initial first-day walk in 1992 on the nearly 7,000-acre Blue Hills reservation south of Boston. On Sunday, tens of thousands of people are expected to participate in First Day Hikes at hundreds of parks in all 50 states.
A brisk walk is a great way to start the new year off on the right foot, literally, and get outdoors, enjoy nature, spend time with family and friends, and maybe start working on your New Year’s resolution to get fit, park officials and participants. he said she.
“It’s all about mind, body and soul,” said Rodney Franklin, director of parks for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The late Patrick Flynn, a former Blue Hills supervisor, devised the original plan.
“I wanted a way to get people to the parks in the winter because a lot of people think parks are just a summer place,” said Priscilla Geigis, deputy commissioner for conservation and resource management at the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Steve Olanoff, 77, participated in that inaugural event in Blue Hills in 1992 and is now a volunteer who helps guide hikers along the park’s trails each year.
“Back then, there was nothing to do on New Year’s Day,” he said. “Everybody sat at home and watched TV. When I heard there was an opportunity to hike, I said, ‘Well, I’ll give it a try.’ It’s really amazing that so many people are doing this now.”
Over the years, more Massachusetts state parks joined. Later, parks in other states were incorporated. In 2012, First Day Hikes spread across the country when the The National Association of State Park Directors supported the idea..
“It just goes to show that one person can have an idea that can spread like that,” Geigis said.
Some states have added their own twists. At Ink Lake State Park in Burnet County, Texas, northwest of Austin, participants can run, bike, or paddle a canoe or kayak on the first day.
Snowshoes or cross-country skis may be required in some locations in Oregon, said Jason Resch, marketing manager for the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation. Elijah Bristow State Park, near Eugene, even offers a horseback ride on the first day.
“Just bring your own horse,” Resch said.
Some hikes are led by park rangers or volunteers who teach about the history, geography, flora, and fauna of a particular park. That, in turn, promotes stewardship and a commitment to protect parks and open space, Geigis said. Refreshments are offered at many sites.
And people of all skill levels are welcome.
“We want to attract as many people as possible,” Franklin said. “So you’ll have some of our walks that are on flat, paved surfaces that aren’t very long, but if you want a quick, longer walk, you can.”
Families with babies, seniors and people with their dogs have participated in the first day’s hike in Massachusetts’ Chester Blandford State Forest, said Elizabeth Massa, president of Western Mass Hilltown Hikers, who leads the 1.5-mile hike.
“If your New Year’s resolution is to exercise more, lose weight, get healthier, then this is your chance,” he said.