New Year’s resolution

“Committing to a healthier lifestyle continues to be one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions for millions of Americans,” said Bryan Frazier with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “And this year, Texas State Parks are providing more than 40 places where folks can do just that—many of which are located close to major metro areas.”

Here in Southeast Texas the absolute best place to take a short hike is Village Creek State Park in Lumberton. It’s a quick hit escape that will take you along Village Creek, through the woods and back to your car in one to two hours. If that’s not enough, you can check out the many trails in the Big Thicket National Preserve near Kountze. There is also Martin Dies Jr. State Park near Jasper. Between those three options, you can hike for miles and lose weight the old fashioned way – exercise.

Under the national umbrella of the First Day Hikes program set forth by the National Association of State Parks Directors (NASPD), 48 state parks across Texas are scheduled to offer a wide variety of hikes and nature walks this New Year’s Day. The closest one to Beaumont is Lumberton’s Village Creek.

“Hiking outdoors is great to do any time, and a novel way to ring in 2012, especially with a group or as a family,” said Chris Holmes, director of interpretation for Texas State Parks. “Hiking not only gets people outdoors to experience nature, but it’s also healthy. Participating in a First Day Hike is a good opportunity to begin a New Year’s resolution for healthier living right off the bat.”

The concept of having an official “First Day Hike” in a park on New Year’s Day originated more than 20 years ago at the Blue Hills Reservation, a state park in Milton, Mass., with the intent to promote both wellness and year-round recreation at parks. Since then, other states have offered similar New Year’s programs; however, this is the first time all 50 state park systems have joined together to officially sponsor First Day Hikes, according to Frazier.

First Day Hikes vary in difficulty and fitness levels, and range from short, leisurely nature walks through forested trails and along boardwalks, to special bird watching hikes, to climbs into the mountains of the Chihuahuan Desert. Most hikes will be guided by state park staff and volunteers and feature an interpretive message about native plants, animals or park history. The walks average one to two miles in length, but many also offer shorter or longer trek options, as well.

“Participants will want to make some modest advance preparations,” said Frazier. “Some hikes warrant call-ahead reservations, and in most instances, folks will want to wear sturdy shoes, and bring drinking water and a hiking stick. Park entrance fees apply in most places, and many parks are leading the First Day Hike at no extra cost.”

Recent onsite visitor surveys in Texas parks revealed that hiking and trails were the No. 1 most sought-after amenity by park visitors. And according to State Parks director Brent Leisure, hikers in the Lone Star State have even more incentives to be outside come year’s end.

“Outdoor recreation during the holidays has been a popular activity for a long time, and here in Texas, it makes even more sense because the weather is often mild enough to do most anything,” said Leisure. “And many of our parks have either just completed or are in the process of renovating and improving their hike and bike trails. We’re proud to offer folks a lot of choices with an organized network of First Day Hikes, and proud that we have so many wonderful places in our state park system for people to enjoy them. “

For more information about First Day Hikes in Texas State Parks, visit the Web site at www.texasstateparks.org/firstdayhikes, where you’ll find detailed hike locations, descriptions, and park contact information.

Robert Sloan can be reached by e-mail at sloan288 [at] aol [dot] com

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