My Buckhannon news correspondent Beth Christian Broschart captured this group photo of everyone who participated in the First Day Hikes initiative at Blackwater Falls State Park on Jan. 1, 2017.

ELKINS – For three years now, I have started the new year on the right foot – literally.

Instead of sleeping in late on New Year’s Day, I have made it a personal goal to rise early and travel to Blackwater Falls State Park to join others in the West Virginia State Parks First Day Hike initiative.

Many people have looked at me when I talk about this now-tradition and ask why – to which I respond, “why not?”

Joining folks from across West Virginia to enjoy one another’s company, make new friends, enjoy the cold, crisp air, complete a multi-mile hike and learn about the beauty of nature is a great way to begin the new year!

In fact, there are guided First Day Hike programs in all 50 states, according to the National Association of State Park Directors, so even if you are not at home in West Virginia, there is no excuse not to get outside and take a hike on Jan. 1.

According to information on the website, on Jan. 1, 2018, nearly 55,000 people rang in the new year on First Day Hikes, collectively hiking more than 133,000 miles throughout the country.

Hikers listen as a naturalist points out flora and fauna along a trail in Blackwater Falls State Park on Jan. 1, 2017.

For 2019, the Blackwater Falls State Park First Day Hike will meet at the Harold Walters Nature Center at 10 a.m. The trek will be approximately two miles and take about two-and-a-half hours to complete.

Paulita Cousin, naturalist at Blackwater Falls State Park, will lead the journey.

“This is for everyone, no matter their hiking skill,” Cousin said. “I walk at the pace of the slowest member of my group. I am kind of a gawker, so I hike slow anyhow.”

Cousin said the trail this year will be relatively level.

“There will be a couple of short hills, but nothing major,” she added. “Along the trail, there are some roots and rocks under foot but it is relatively easy walking.”

In past First Day Hikes, Cousin has shared her knowledge of the flora and fauna of the area as well as the history of Blackwater Falls State Park.

This is about the seventh First Day Hike that she has led at Blackwater Falls State Park.

Cousin said these walks are important, adding she hopes folks will come out to participate.

“It is so great to get outdoors,” Cousin said. “It’s a great way to start off the New Year – being out in nature – and it’s healthy. It is a great opportunity to socialize with people you may have met the night before. But most of all, it’s great to get outdoors. Lots of people are trying to get healthy and getting outside to take a hike is good for your body.”

Cousin said when people walk in the winter, they often forget to bring along water and a snack – so be sure to bring that along on your First Day Hike and prepare for potentially wet weather. Temperatures are expected to hover in the 40s with a chance of rain.

“Lots of people do not realize you can get dehydrated in the winter time,” she said. “So be sure to bring along water and a snack. The hike takes about 2.5 hours.”

This year at Blackwater Falls State Park, the First Day Hike will be on Dobbins House Trail to Pase Point Overlook, where there are gorgeous views of the Blackwater Canyon. In previous years, the hike has followed the Shay Trail down to Elakala Falls and down the trail to Lindy Point.

Additional information about the First Day Hike at Blackwater Falls is available by calling 304-259-5216.

Starting the first day of the New Year has been an adventure – meeting new friends, learning more about the beauty of the West Virginia state park near me and seeing the beauty of nature at a time I would not normally think of hiking.

For me, the First Day Hikes are for everyone who wants to start the New Year right – singles, couples, families, Girl and Boy Scout groups and anyone looking to do something different, healthy or most of all, fun! Each year I have participated at Blackwater Falls, there have been from 60 to 100 hikers.

Other West Virginia State Parks sponsoring First Day Hikes include:
-Chief Logan State Park in Logan. The First Day Hike there begins at 10 a.m. at the Park Office/Museum in the Park and is said to include two to three miles of peaceful walking featuring tree identification, tracks, wildlife identification and learning about evergreens. Additional information is available by calling 304-855-6100.

-Kanawha State Forest in Charleston is having their First Day Walk at 2 p.m. Those wanting to participate should meet at Picnic Shelter No. 5. Each year, there are more than 100 participants. More information is available by calling 304-558-3500.

-Cacapon State Park in Berkeley Springs has two separate First Day Hikes beginning at 10 a.m. – one is a moderate hike and follows the Tower Trail which is about two miles long and the other follows the Cabin Loop Trail and is 1.5 miles long. Information about the hikes is available by calling 304-258-1022.

-Watoga State Park in Marlinton has a two-mile First Day Hike beginning at 10 a.m. at the Park’s Picnic Shelter. The hike winds along the Recreational Trail and Lake Trail. Following the hike, participants are invited to share hot chocolate and coffee. Information is available by calling 304-799-4087.

-Tygart Lake State Park in Grafton offers a First Day Hike at 1 p.m. Participants are to meet at the Tygart Lake Lodge and will begin their two-mile hike along the Dogwood Trail. Those with questions should call 304-265-6144.

My Buckhannon wishes everyone a safe and happy New Year’s Day and 2019!