Southeast Texas is not without plenty of hiking trails, and three of the best places to check out while we’ve still got cool winter weather include the Big Thicket just north of Beaumont, Village Creek State Park in Lumberton and Martin Dies Jr. State Park near Jasper.
“People everywhere are zeroing in on their New Year’s resolutions for 2013,” said Stephanie Salinas with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “Some will vow to add more exercise into their routines, and others will promise not to stay indoors as much. Start the new year off on the right foot by tackling both those resolutions at once.”
On Jan. 1, state parks around Texas began hosting “First Day Hikes,” an annual event that is held nationwide.
“Recent onsite visitor surveys in Texas parks revealed that hiking trails were the most sought-after amenity by park visitors, and many Texas state parks have added newly built or recently improved hiking and biking trails to meet the growing demand,” says Salinas. “You can create a new family tradition by participating in ‘First Day Hikes’ at a park near you, and together you can start off your year in a new direction.”
For more information, go to www.texasstateparks.org/firstdayhikes.
If you’re into hiking, this is one of the best times of the year to explore the many miles of trails snaking through the Big Thicket. The mild to cold temperatures keep the mosquito population at bay. Ditto that for snakes like water moccasins, copperheads and timber rattlers. Plus, it’s a lot more comfortable to walk in the mild Texas winter weather, as opposed to the sweltering heat of the summer months.
There are nine trails in five preserve units. They range from a half mile to 18 miles in length. According to information from the Big Thicket, hikers should allow one mile per hour for strolling and three miles per hour for hiking.
Detailed maps and information on hiking the trails are available at the Big Thicket Visitor Center located at the junction of Highway 69 and FM 420. You can also get information at www.nps.gov/bith/ or by calling (409) 246-2337.
East Texas state parks offer a great look at a variety of wildlife and vegetation. For example along the Big Thicket and Village Creek trails are forests that are full of cypress swamps; water tupelo, river birch, mayhaw and yaupon trees; and baygalls and blackwater sloughs in the floodplain of the Neches River. Wildlife is also abundant and includes snapping turtles, white-tailed deer, diamondback water snakes, opossums, spring peepers, crickets, bullfrogs and nine-banded armadillos. Birding enthusiasts will enjoy rain-loving wood ducks, egrets and herons, just to name a few from over 200 species of birds native to the Big Thicket.
Aside from just getting out and enjoying a cool day outdoors, there is the benefit of exercise. Hiking is more than just fun.
According to the American Hiking Society, countless studies have shown that regular exercise not only improves our overall health and fitness, but also lengthens and improves the quality of our lives. Regular physical activity substantially reduces the risk of dying of coronary heart disease, and decreases the risk for colon cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. It also helps to control weight; contributes to healthy bones, muscles and joints; helps relieve the pain of arthritis; reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression; and is associated with fewer hospitalizations and physician visits.
Walking is one of the lowest impact sports around, which is why hiking is so popular. This means that while you get all the cardiovascular benefits of other aerobic activities, you do so with a minimum of stress, strain and pounding to your body.
Like all forms of exercise, hiking is one of the best ways to lose weight and is a method of stabilizing cholesterol levels. On average, you burn 100 calories for every mile you walk. Another way to look at it is in terms of how quickly you are walking. You burn about 200 to 250 calories per hour if you’re walking at a rate of 2.5 miles an hour. (That’s a 24-minute mile-about the pace you’d walk getting from one place to another). You burn about 500 calories per hour if you’re walking at a rate of 4.5 miles per hour. (That’s just over a 13-minute-mile a pace that many novice runners maintain).
Studies have shown that people who lose weight through hiking or walking maintain the loss and continue to lose while those who lose through dieting tend to gain weight again quickly.
The bottom line is this – take a hike!
Robert Sloan can be reached by e-mail at sloan288 [at] aol [dot] com.