AUSTIN— Visitors from every corner of the state headed to a Texas State Park on Jan. 1 to help usher in the new decade with a First Day Hike in a big way. The roaring 20’s were welcomed by 5,242 people who hiked, biked and rode a total of 9,564 miles statewide.
This year, a record number of Texans visited 76 parks and participated in one of the 126 events held New Year’s Day.
“So many families across the nation take part in First Day Hikes and I was thrilled to see that Texas State Parks had more participants than ever in 2020,” said Rodney Franklin, Director of Texas State Parks. “It is great to see that so many people joined us for what has become a fantastic tradition across the state of Texas. The State Parks team provides such a variety of activities for all and cannot wait to see even more friends and families join us in 2021.”
The First Day Hikes events ranged from strolls on scenic trails, midnight walks, polar plunges, bike rides, and short treks with four-legged family members to more strenuous hikes for experienced visitors.
A visitor at Sea Rim State Park participated in the polar plunge in the surf after walking a First Day Hike and came back to shore with a thumbs up exclaiming “I did it!”
Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, about an hour southwest of Fort Worth, had the most participants with 390 visitors taking part in the seven First Day Hike events held throughout the day. Mother Neff State Park near Waco was close behind with 387 visitors and Tyler State Park in Tyler came in third with 262 participants.
Two of the four-legged attendees at Lake Brownwood State Park’s dog hike were rescues from the park’s Hike with a Homeless Dog event in October.
Several parks had more than 100 people participate in a single event. One event at Ray Roberts Lake State Park- Isle Du Bois Unit had 231 visitors, the most participants of any event across the state.
The backcountry hike at Tyler State Park had 204 participants on the 3.1-mile guided hike. During the rest stops, rangers talked about how to navigate using clues in nature, the health benefits of hiking in the forest and bear safety (even though bears do not live in the park).
Below are highlights from the field during this year’s First Day Hike events:
- A park police officer from Brazos Bend State Park near Houston picked a retirement date of Jan. 2, 2020 a year and a half ago so he could lead one more First Day Hike. After 25 years of state service and more than 1,000 guided hikes led, this was his last hike as an employee.
- The First Day Hike at Caprock Canyons State Park in the Panhandle was a great success with visitors being stewards of the park by picking up any trash they saw along the trail.
- Eisenhower State Park in North Texas held two First Day Hikes, one at 10 a.m. and another at 2 p.m. A total of 171 visitors braved the muddy trail conditions and started the year off on the right, albeit muddy, foot. The 10 a.m. hike had 79 people attend for a total of 118.5 miles hiked. The first event became somewhat of a reunion hike because at least a dozen folks in attendance realized friends, family and acquaintances had elected to attend the same hike.
- At Falcon State Park in South Texas, the hike went off without a hitch except for a stubborn rattlesnake that refused to move from the trail. Park rangers moved it aside with snake grabbers and the hike continued without incident.
- Participants of the First Day Hike at Goliad State Park walked a mile down the River Trail to the dining hall for snacks and drinks. It started to drizzle as the group walked the second mile down the road to the hike and bike trail, but nobody let a little drizzle get them down. It began raining a little harder just as they got back to the parking lot and many people remarked on the perfect timing of their return.
- At Lake Somerville State Park- Birch Creek Unit, the group spotted a juvenile American bald eagle during the hike. One of the Master Naturalists set up a scope and everyone had an opportunity to see it.
- During Tyler State Park’s birding the lakeshore First Day Hike event, 57 participants and two dogs walked 2.10 miles around the park’s lake and identified 26 bird species.
For more information about hiking or other activities in Texas State Parks, visit http://www.texasstateparks.org.
Photos of First Day Hikes at Texas State Parks can be found on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Flickr page.