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Des Moines – Iowa’s Fifth Annual First Day Hikes were a great success according to DNR staff reports. More than 600 people began 2016 with a hike in an Iowa state park, logging more than 1,100 total miles on New Year’s Day.
Seventeen parks had people participate with groups ranging in size from one to nearly 100, and most hikes averaged one to two miles depending on the location.
Hikers ranged from 5 to 70 years of age at the Waubonsie State Park hike, according to park manager Matt Moles. Waubonsie has been hosting a First Day Hike for the last three years and it has grown each year.
“The years’ progressive totals have been 12, 30 and now 69,” said Moles. “For most of our group it was their first time visiting Waubonsie and many commented on the size and beauty of the park. There is nothing better than getting folks here who wouldn’t have otherwise wandered in.”
“I’m ‘unofficially’ claiming we had the youngest participant,” said Andy Bartlett, park manager at Ledges State Park, in Boone County. “One couple brought their six-week-old baby.”
Ledges State Park was a first-time host this year and had its parking lot overflowing with more than 60 people who joined the hike.
Lake Darling State Park in Washington County also hosted a hike for the first time this year and had 72 hikers. According to park manager Andrew Roach, probably the most memorable experience for his hikers was seeing the bald eagles’ nest and the actual eagles flying around the park.
“We were small but mighty here at Springbrook Conservation Education Center, with nine participants,” said Allison Cherry, AmeriCorps naturalist for the center. “But it allowed for great conversation and plenty of wildlife watching, especially deer. The kids didn't want to leave; I think they would have stayed all day if the parents had let them.”
Prairie Rose State Park in west-central Iowa took a chance on hosting their first, First Day Hike as an evening owl prowl during the Rose Bowl broadcast and had 34 hikers show up.
“We had a great turn out for our hike considering it was our first and it was during the Iowa game,” said park manager Michelle Reinig. “Fun was had by all, and we even saw three owls on our prowl.”
The two state parks that have participated in all five First Day Hikes -- Walnut Woods State Park , on the southwest side of the Des Moines and Mines of Spain State Recreation Area in Dubuque -- had just shy of 100 people each attend their hikes.
Walnut Woods State Park participants could choose from two hike lengths, each ending at the lodge where they could warm up at the fireplace and enjoy a spread of food provided by generous friends.
One fourth-grade girl made the day of Mines of Spain Park manager Wayne Buchholtz when he overheard her say “this was the best hike I have been on, I never hiked in the winter before.”
Iowa’s First Day Hike participants were encouraged to log their adventures on social media with #FirstDayHikes and #IowaStateParks, and each park made available a hand-crafted picture frame, with the name of the park, to enhance their photographs.
State park friends groups and other volunteers were on hand at most First Day Hikes to help lead the hikes and provide refreshments.
First Day Hikes, sponsored by America’s State Parks, is a national initiative to get people outdoors and get healthy. All 50 states participated in this fifth annual event.