Monday December 31, 2012

ZEKE WRIGHT

Staff Writer

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 family-friendly, 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."

The hike at Woodford State Park begins at 9 a.m. at the snowmobile parking lot off Route 9 across from the camping/picnicking entrance to the park. The hike is estimated to take about an hour or more over easy to moderate terrain on park roads and trails. Given two recent snowstorms that recorded a combined 26 inches atop Woodford according to the National Weather Service, first day hikers should plan on bringing their snowshoes. Although traffic has already packed down some trails, there's snow statewide and "the message going out is definitely bring snowshoes," said Whipple.

Other Jan. 1 hikes are scheduled at Wilmington's Molly Stark State Park, and also Little River, Elmore, Kettle Pond, Underhill, Quechee, Button Bay, and Holbrook Memorial state parks.

No pre-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 802-828-2488. Update messages will be posted Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. For full details visit www.vtstateparks.com.

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