Vow to battle the post-holiday letdown and shed those unwanted pounds by pounding a Texas State Park trail, beginning Jan. 1, at more than 60 organized First Day Hikes that will kick off the New Year as part of a growing nationwide tradition. Remember, too, that most Texas state parks host hiking events of various lengths and degrees of difficulty throughout the year.
Last year, 1,100 dedicated souls gave their soles a workout in less than ideal weather during First Day Hike events held in 57 Texas State Parks. It was the second year for state parks throughout Texas to host a New Year’s Day walk, hike or run as part of the national program begun by the National Association of State Parks Directors. Last year, 720 first-day hikes in state parks throughout the nation drew 22,000 park visitors who hiked 43,000 miles.
“First Day Hikes has become an established signature park event that helps Texas families create traditions they can follow year after year to get them outdoors in our state parks to share camaraderie and a renewed sense of adventure,” says Karen Blizzard, Texas State Parks First Day Hikes coordinator. “We are expecting even more Texas State Parks, many of which offer guided and interpretive walks, to join in the fun this year.”
The Maryland Park Service is coordinating the nation’s 2014 events under the auspices of the National Association of State Parks Directors. This year, a NASPD affiliate member, the American Hiking Society, has joined to support the First Day Hikes around the country.
Hiking in Texas state parks offer many health benefits that help combat childhood diabetes and adolescent obesity, provide a source of Vitamin D from sunshine and help burn off unwanted pounds. Did you know a 163-pound woman can burn nine calories a minute during a brisk one-hour walk, or about 555 calories, and a 190-pound man roughly 646 calories during a brisk, one-hour hike?
Mother Neff State Park near Moody recorded 115 first-day hikers to lead the Texas State Park system turnout this past Jan. 1, followed by Franklin Mountains State Park in El Paso that hosted 78 visitors to the Chihuahuan Desert high country. Mother Neff will offer a guided hike over four miles of trails, starting at 2 p.m., while West Texas hikers up for more of a challenge can test their endurance in the Peak Fitness Challenge by climbing 1,000 feet in elevation on a 3.5 mile round-trip trek to Munday’s Gap in the Franklin Mountains. Like most First Day events, there is no charge, but park entry fees apply.
First Day Hikes vary in difficulty and required fitness levels, ranging from short, leisurely nature walks through forested trails, the beach and along boardwalks to special bird watching and interpretive cultural/natural history hikes. Fort Richardson State Park & Historic Site in Jacksboro, for example, is hosting a one-half mile nature hike on the medium difficulty-rated Kicking Bird Trail. Participants are encouraged to bring a camera, binoculars, water and snacks.
Recent on-site Texas State Park visitor surveys revealed that hiking trails were the most sought-after park amenity. As a result, a number of state parks have added new trails or extended existing trails to accommodate the growing demand from hikers and bikers.
Blizzard reminds Texans that any time is a good time to go for a nature walk, short hike or longer backpacking trek in a Texas state park. A number of parks will be hosting guided hikes this winter suitable for families and many trails are paved and wheelchair-accessible.
Hiking trails run the gamut from short, flat nature trails with interpretive signage at many sites to the challenging Lighthouse Trail at Palo Duro Canyon State Park and overnight backpacking trails at Dinosaur Valley State Park, and Lost Maples and Dinosaur Valley state natural areas. Those seeking a true desert “wilderness” experience can head to Big Bend Ranch State Park’s 19-mile Rancherias Loop that takes hikers from the Rio Grande flatlands near Lajitas into rugged canyon terrain featuring desert seeps and springs, rugged canyons and scenic overlooks.
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