The new year started off overcast and freezing, with swirling gray clouds and biting winds that whipped noses and numbed fingertips, making teeth chatter in the hazy morning light.
“Welcome to the Isle du Bois First Day Hike!” Ranger Rick Torres said, addressing a crowd of bundled-up hikers. “Our resolution is to get outside more, so I’m super excited to have y’all today. Is everyone ready?”
People continued to flood into the parking lot as Torres spoke. At the park’s entrance, a line of cars stretched 100 yards back. A massive number of people arrived despite the cold and misty weather, eager to kick off a new year with the annual First Day Hike Challenge.
The event is part of a nationwide initiative with a big goal: to help Americans get outdoors and active during the new year.
On New Year’s Day, state parks around the nation host family-friendly outdoor adventures open to the public. The events range in difficulty and involve a variety of outdoor activities like biking, paddling and taking midnight polar plunges. Last year in Texas, 51 state parks hosted First Day Hike events. Over 960 participants walked, paddled and biked exactly 1,766 miles.
At Isle du Bois, Aimee Tanos said her great niece Sophie couldn’t wait to start the hike. The morning event was slightly delayed by the influx of hikers checking into the park, and Sophie was starting to get antsy.
“She loves trees,” Tanos said. “We keep telling her we’re taking her on a walk through the trees and she just can’t wait. She spent the night with us so that she could come out here today. She’s very excited about it; she’s just so ready to get going.”
Aimee and Sophie were accompanied by around 70 other people, many of whom share a passion for hiking and the outdoors. They met at 10 a.m. at the Hawthorne Campground parking lot to embark on the 2.2-mile hike along the Randy Bell Scenic Loop.
The journey on the low-intensity paved trail would take about two hours to complete. Ranger Torres lead the group along with the help of several other park rangers, stopping periodically to point out significant phenomena during the hike.
At 2 p.m., the Johnson Branch Unit of Ray Roberts Lake Park would hold a separate hike around Dogwood Canyon Trail. Hikers like Carl Santos, a Krugerville resident and self-described lover of the outdoors, participated in both hiking challenges as part of their annual New Year’s celebrations.
“We’ll have a few hours after this to grab some lunch and head over,” Santos said. “Hiking is something we really enjoy. To us, it’s important to just get outdoors every once in a while and see the natural beauty of the world.”
Last year, over 28,000 nature lovers like Santos participated in The First Day Hike event nationwide, collectively traversing over 66,000 miles in the nation’s state parks.
“It seems like a hit to me,” Ranger Jason Lindsey said, adding that last year’s event at Isle du Bois had a similar turnout. “Hopefully we get some new visitors who have never visited the park before. Everyone will get to experience the scenery of the Randy Bell Trail and have fun outdoors on the first day in 2019.”