First Day Hikes

Hiking on January 1st has been a tradition for me for several years. Actually, being active outdoors seems to be my trend on “fireworks holidays” – the 4th of July and New Year’s. When I was in high school, there were several 4ths when I’d go for long(ish, at the time, 13-14 miles) bike rides from my then-hometown to the Delaware River. I’ve also hiked on some 4ths, starting with Mount Diablo in the Bay Area about four years ago. These two “fireworks holidays” are great for so many reasons. They’re on opposite sides of the year, and so guarantee diverse weather conditions; they are largely obligation free–you can do as much or as little as you like; and, of course, they include fireworks!

Regardless of whatever else I may or may not be doing on these days, I find it rewarding to spend part of them outside. This year, unlike other 1sts when we’ve hiked the Billy Goat trail in Great Falls, we joined First Day Hikes in Cunningham Falls State Park and Gambrill State Park, both in Maryland. Chris was serving as the unofficial event photographer–not sure yet where the photos will end up once he forwards them along to his park services contact. Ha – that almost sounds sneaky! Definitely isn’t…

Personally, I have trouble seeing the allure in short group hikes; I have trouble with both the “short” and the “group” parts. When we hiked Old Rag last spring, it felt, at times, like being on line for a Disney ride, and while yesterday was not nearly that bad, still it was a long, mostly single-file line of people winding their way along a trail. At Cunningham Falls, we had cold but clear weather to and from the falls. Gambrill, very windy and cold, was a mere half mile that circled the main parking lot at the top, hitting two key overlooks, as well as –and this really was cool–the added bonus of the tea room and its balcony. But generally when I hike I want to be out there for a good long time, and encounter very few other people. So, these First Day Hikes are not designed with me in mind.

That said, I think they’re a great idea for families, couples, or solo outdoor enthusiasts who may be unfamiliar with a particular park, interested in an outdoors activity, or simply in need of some motivation to get out there and hike. According to the American Hiking Society, “First Day Hikes are part of a nationwide initiative led by America’s State Parks to get people outdoors,” and all 50 states had hikes scheduled. There were about 30 people at Cunningham Falls yesterday and about 50 at Gambrill. Of those at Gambrill, many were in the park for the first time. That in and of itself is fantastic. We are fortunate that the park services are there to maintain and conserve natural spaces, and it is well worth enjoying them whenever possible. Especially on fireworks holidays!

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