First Day Hikers ‘start off the new year right’

  • Ken Goebel, a ranger at Monadnock State Park, led a party of hikers to the Little Mountain lookout as part of the First Day Hikes program Sunday. “It’s to get people outside, to start off the new year right, being active and healthy,” said Elizabeth Kintz, the park’s manager. NICK REID photos / Monitor staff

  • Claudia Dayon, 7, and her friend Norah Blakey, 8, of Portsmouth led a group of hikers along a 2-mile trail in Monadnock State Park on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017. NICK REID—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 1/1/2017 11:02:39 PM

To kick off the new year, hundreds of New Hampshire residents took to the snowy woods Sunday for organized hikes as part of a national program.

At Monadnock State Park, which has held First Day Hikes each year since the program’s inception six years ago, dozens of people began 2017 with a 2-mile hike to the Little Mountain viewpoint.

“It’s to get people outside, to start off the new year right, being active and healthy,” said Elizabeth Kintz, the park’s manager.

Five locations, including a first-time event in Bristol, offered varied experiences for hikers and, at the northernmost First Day Hike in Bristol, for their dogs, too.

At Monadnock, where the park fee was waived for the holiday and hikers received complimentary scarves embroidered with the state parks logo, small parties departed a fire pit at the headquarters with volunteer guides.

Ken Goebel, a ranger at the park, chose 8-year-old Norah Blakey of Portsmouth and her friend, Claudia Dayon, 7, to keep a lookout for trail markers and lead their group through the crunchy snow.

Nearby a tall, gnarled red oak, Goebel paused and prompted the group with a question: What made this tree curly? Weather conditions, bugs, adaptations necessitated by adjacent trees, the group supposed.

One of the girls asked Goebel how old it was, and he estimated maybe 150 years old.

“I thought it’d be like 1,000,” she replied.

In this way, the kids learned how giant, lone rocks – or glacial erratics – ended up by the trail, how to identify porcupine tracks, how to tell the difference between red and white oaks and why eating snow won’t do much for a person’s hydration.

At the end of the hike, Blakey said she enjoyed learning how to identify a red oak by the slight colorations in its bark.

But, she added, “My favorite part is going to be rolling down this hill.”

Nearly 55,000 people nationwide rang in the new year last year with a First Day Hike, according to the America’s State Parks website, perhaps in part because the activity closely aligns with those most popular of new year’s resolutions: exercising and losing weight.

“A lot of resolution stuff,” Kintz, the park manager, said she’s heard as the impetus for participation. “We do get a lot of first-timers to Monadnock for First Day Hikes, which is fun to see.”

Weight loss isn’t the top new year’s resolution for 2017, however, which is the first time it has lost that distinction since 2014, according to a Marist College Institute for Public Opinion poll.

Taking that spot instead is “being a better person,” with 16 percent of the vote, besting the 10 percent for weight loss and 10 percent for exercising. Saving more money, improving one’s health and eating healthier each took 7 percent in the poll.

Still, the First Day Hike could have satisfied a number of those goals. And, as if in endorsement of the national program, a bald eagle appeared soaring over the Little Mountain viewpoint just moments after the party reached its destination.


(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, or on Twitter at @NickBReid.)

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