Tuesday January 1, 2013

WOODFORD - Vermont State Parks are inviting people to start the new year out right with a hike in one of nine parks around the state.

Free, guided, and familyfriendly, Vermont's First Day Hikes is shaping up to be an annual Jan. 1 tradition after its inauguration last year. Director of Vermont State Parks Craig Whipple said the New Year's Day hikes were part of a nationwide program through the National Association of State Park Directors. Some 600 hikes are scheduled across the U.S. on Tuesday.

Whipple said the main purpose was to get people outdoors, where they'll discover a whole new world in the winter at their favorite park. "Getting people out in the winter is an extra effort," he said, although the state's park and trail system is open year-round. "It's not just summertime." About 190 individuals in Vermont participated in the first day hikes last year.

"There are all kinds of good messages," Whipple said - including for those who may have made resolutions for 2013. "People often make resolutions to get more active and to get outside. ... When we did it last year, we really pushed the New Year's resolutions (component)." Among a group of children interviewed last year, Whipple said they chalked their participation up to resolutions to get outdoors and "put down the electronics."

"It really is a pretty powerful message."

In Woodford, local Bennington resident and member of the Vermont Outdoor Guide Association George Prouty is set to lead Tuesday's walk through the woods. Other hikes are being led by Vermont State Parks staff, including Director of Operations Ed O'Leary, and members of the Green Mountain Club like Dave Hardy, the club's director of trail programs.

While the parks department is encouraging people to enjoy the outdoors anytime, Tuesday's guides offer an additional element of security and troves of information about the surrounding natural environment and history. "It adds a lot to the experience," said Whipple. But "don't want a guide? Don't need a guide? Just go," he continued. "State parks are wonderful places to do that."

Today's hike at Molly Stark State Park in in Wilmington will begin at 10 a.m. and lasts about two hours.

The hike will be on moderate terrain on park roads and trails and will follow the ridge to Hogback Mountain.

The hike is family friendly, though it is advised that participants dress for the weather.

"Bring snowshoes because there's a lot of snow," said Vermont States Park representative Julie Nichols.

Besides Molly Stark and Woodford state parks, other Jan. 1 hikes are scheduled at Little River, Elmore, Kettle Pond, Underhill, Quechee, Button Bay and Holbrook Memorial state parks.

No registration is needed, but hikers should dress for the weather and bring snowshoes, beverages and snacks. To check on the status of a hike, call 802828-2488. For full details visit www.vtstateparks.com.