What better way to kick off 2018 than to join family and friends in the outdoors on New Year’s Day for a First Day Hike. On January 1, New York State Parks and the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will be hosting a set of guided hikes as part of a nationwide effort to encourage people to get outdoors. Now in its 7th year, New York’s First Day Hike (FDH) program will offer 75 hikes across every region at state parks, historic sites, wildlife areas and trails.
Each year, this enjoyable holiday tradition draws more and more visitors with multiple hiking options from Western New York to the tip of Long Island. Additionally, since some FDH events are held in the afternoon, there’s no need to get up early for those who like to celebrate New Year’s Eve with gusto!
Hikes are being offered at 59 state parks and historic sites, with some facilities offering multiple hikes for different age groups, skill level and destinations within the park; and at 14 DEC wildlife areas, trails and environmental educations centers. Staff from State Parks and DEC, along with volunteers will lead these family-friendly walks and hikes, which range from one to five miles in length, depending on location and weather conditions.
“First Day Hikes have become a popular outdoor tradition for families and friends; a healthy way to kick off the New Year amidst the stunning beauty of our state’s most scenic natural backdrops,” said State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey. “This year’s program includes an expanded variety of winter walks and hikes and is the perfect reminder that New York’s parks are open year-round, offering world-class recreation and enjoyment for people with varying interests and abilities.”
Some host locations welcome dogs on leashes and several have flat, even surfaces for strollers. Participants are encouraged to contact the park for information and pre-registration where noted. A sample of this year’s programs feature a seal walk, a walking history tour, a snowshoe waterfall hike, pet-friendly treks, gorge walks, military musicology, canal towpath walk, and more. New entries for 2018 include a bird survey, full-moon hike, mountain trails, views from a fire tower, and a walk through a maritime forest.
The First Day Hikes program originated in neighboring state Massachusetts in 1992 for their state parklands. Since 2012, the program has been held in all 50 states and branded as America’s State Parks First Day Hikes. January 2018 marks the year that First Day Hikes will become an international movement with Ontario Parks in Canada offering these family favorites as well.
If conditions permit, some First Day Hikes may include snowshoeing or cross-country skiing with equipment for rent if available or participants can bring their own. Many host sites will be offering refreshments and giveaways. A map and details about hike locations, difficulty and length, terrain, registration requirements and additional information are listed at parks.ny.gov.
Last year’s event featured nearly 4,000 participants, who hiked a total of 7,900 miles amidst New York’s winter beauty. So, start your own tradition, grab some sturdy footwear and a warm jacket, and join in the fun!
Evangola State Park FDHers, hiked along Lake Erie.
Walking through the snow at Moreau Lake State Park just north of Saratoga Springs.
FDH are for both young and not-so young. This pair was at Wellesley Island State Park along the St. Lawrence River.
You’ve probably heard about kids not getting outdoors and in nature enough these days. The good news is you don’t have to be an expert on the outdoors to take kids into nature! Kids are curious beings. Taking the time to look and discover is more important than knowing the names of everything or how things work.
Kids are natural explorers outside, so your biggest challenge will be getting them back indoors. Others may not be used to bugs, dirt and the freedom to look around and discover, so it may take a little encouragement.
Let’s get outside! Whether you are a parent, friend, babysitter, educator here are 7 fun ideas for getting kids outside in nature.
Tiny Explorers: All you have to do is make sure they are safe and they will figure out the rest. Walking on spongy grass, dabbling in puddles – who doesn’t love puddles – or feeling the roughness of a big log and learning the words to describe what they are feeling in nature is all part of the experience.
Ready for a hike, photo by Jamie Bybee
Stomping in puddles is always fun! Photo by Jamie Bybee
There are lots of things to explore on a fallen log, photo by Josh Teeter
Beaches on Lakes, Rivers or the Ocean: These are great spots for exploring. There are almost always bugs, shells and rocks to find. And of course water and sand make for endless opportunities for building castles and moats. Look for Learn-to-Swim classes, too. Lessons will help kids (and you) feel more at ease on the waterfront.
Beach construction projects, photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Out for a beach walk, photo by Julie Lundgren
Stream Watchers: Shallow rocky streams are also intriguing – especially for more active kids that like to climb on rocks or logs, launch sticks and watch them float down stream, and look for fish, frogs, stream insects and snails. Avoid fast moving or deep streams that can be hazardous. Remember to put any animals back where you found them as that is their home.
Stream exploring, hoto by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Kids are great at finding toads and frogs. Remember to let them go where you found them, photo by State Parks
Young Scientists: If your child has a deep interest in nature, they might like keeping a nature notebook like a real scientist. This boy was learning about logs in a program at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve. How big is the log, were there holes, is there moss ora mushroom on it; did you see any insects or other animals on or inside it? Or collect some leaves – how many kinds can you find? Or draw pictures of the different insects and caterpillars one finds in the garden of meadow.
“LogLog” Program at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve, photo by State Parks
Red efts are common along wooded trails, photo by Mike Adamovic for State Parks
Bird and butterfly watching: This takes a bit more patience, waiting and watching, to see birds, butterflies or even dragonflies! But it is amazing what you can see when you take the time to watch. This activity is good for older kids as it takes some skill to focus the binoculars. Younger kids can practice using binoculars made from cardboard tubes. If you are new to this, look for guided programs aimed at young people or families.
Get the Bug: Get a little butterfly net and see what you can find. This can be a good prop for kids who get bored with walks or just looking at stuff. Swinging a net, whether or not it catches anything, can be fun. Best to learn what bees and wasps look like first though, and to aim for the butterflies and moths instead. Look for fun pollinator activities at parks near you- these activities are for kids of all ages.
Looking for pollinators at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve, photo by Emily Becker, State Parks
Sulphur butterflies (like this one) and cabbage whites are very common, photo by Matt Schlesinger, NYNHP
Bike Riding: Bike riding in parks is great way to see and hear nature. You would be surprised at how much one is learning even when not specifically focused on looking at the trees, the birds or the bugs. Animals will dart across the trail or scurry away as you get closer, birds will be singing, and you will pass by hundreds of different species of plants (trees, wildflowers, ferns), increasing your awareness of the diversity of the natural world. Having a physical activity and a sense of accomplishment from a bike ride or a hike can help sustain interest in getting outdoors. Check out trail maps on parks’ websites and remember your helmets!
What to do when you don’t know the answers?
What is it? Kids will ask but they don’t expect you to always have an answer. Feel free to say you don’t know, but take the time to look a little closer to explore together. “Hmmm, it is some kind of animal – see how it hops. It is very tiny. Can you see its eyes?” or “What a nice flower. Do you think the bees like it? Let’s watch to see if any bees or butterflies or other insects come to the flowers to feed. They like the sweet nectar.” A tip from educators: don’t reply with “it’s just a bug” or “just a flower”because everything is novel and interesting.
What is it doing? See if they can come up with an idea of what the animal is doing. Are they swimming, jumping, sunning, sleeping, searching for food, talking (in animal language), fighting, or running away. Why are they running away? Why do they burrow in the sand? If you don’t know, children often come up with pretty good ideas about what is going on if you encourage them to take the time to watch.
State Parks offer ideal places to bring children – the trails, interpretive signs, and beaches are ideal spots for kids to explore the nature world. We hope to see you there!
Recommended Guide Books – check your library, bookstore or online distributor:
Peterson First Guides: A series of small, inexpensive books on insects, wildflowers, mammals, caterpillars, seashores, birds, and other topics. Highly recommended for young and old as an introduction and guide to more common plants and animals one might encounter.
Backyard Birds (Field Guides for Young Naturalists) by Karen Stray Nolting, Jonathon Latimer and Roger Tory Peterson 1999.
The Secret Lives of Backyard Bugs by Judy Burris and Wayne Richards 2011.
The Bumper Book of Nature: A User’s Guide to the Great Outdoors by Stephen Moss 2010.
The Tree Book for Kids and Their Grown-ups by Gina Ingolgia 2013. Published by Brooklyn Botanic Garden and full of questions and answers about trees in both city and countryside.
Post by Julie Lundgren, NY Natural Heritage Program. The author grew up exploring the back yard and woods and has spent a lifetime working as an environmental educator and ecologist.
“What a gorgeous day to be out on the water!” proclaims a very eager Marshall.
“I hope we see a bald eagle like last time!” replies Svoboda.
No matter the canoe tour guide, a visitor is in for a treat, as all of the educators (guides) from the nearby Taconic Outdoor Education Center. These guides are friendly, knowledgeable, and bring their own unique perspective on the natural history and ecology of the region. The hour and a half tour circles the shoreline of the 65-acre lower portion of the man-made lake, weaving in and out of numerous small islands.
The lake, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s, is both a recreational and ecological jewel in the park. In summer, you can find people swimming and sunbathing, paddling in kayaks, and fishing for largemouth bass and yellow perch along the shoreline. Chain pickerel, brown bullhead catfish, and black crappie also lurk through the aquatic plants below the surface. A lake such as Canopus, although made by humans, provides a very rich ecosystem. Other critters that spend most of their time in the water include painted turtles and water snakes such as northern water snake and black rat snake. There are even predacious water beetles in the lake; beetles are large enough to eat small fish!
Canopus Lake also attracts animals from the forest ecosystem that may be looking for a drink of water or a place to hunt along the water’s edge. Beaver activity is evident with toppled trees along the shoreline and a large wood/mud dam near the CCC dam. Osprey (state special concern species), bald eagles (state threatened) and other birds of prey soar overhead. Osprey are excellent at fishing, plunging into the water and, more often than not, emerge with a fish in their talons. What makes this canoe trip so exciting is that one really never knows what they might be lucky enough to observe when out on the water!
Canoe tours cost $5 per person and leave from the park’s boat launch along Route 301 just south of the park office. Some of the boats can accommodate four people (two paddlers and two passengers.) Reservations are encouraged by calling (845) 265-3773. Come experience this fun summertime activity for yourself!
This New Year’s Day, many New York state parks and historic sites are inviting the public to celebrate 2017 in the outdoors with a First Day Hike. The guided hikes are part of the sixth annual First Day Hikes program taking place throughout the nation, giving people of all ages an opportunity to connect with nature and experience the guided walks with family and friends.
Here in New York, fifty hikes are being hosted, nine more than the previous year, at 44 state parks and historic sites with some facilities offering multiple hikes for different age groups, skill level and destinations within the park. State park staff and volunteers will lead these family-friendly walks and hikes, which range from one to five miles depending on the location. This past year’s program welcomed more than 2,860 people who hiked a total of 6,897 miles.
The start of the new year is the perfect time to leave the hectic holiday pace behind and embrace the outdoors with a walk or hike in New York’s breathtaking scenic settings. First Day Hikes are a family-friendly tradition that offer a fresh seasonal perspective of the state’s natural treasures and vast opportunities open year-round at State Parks.
Among the many programs being offered this year are a seal walk, winter woodlands, a walking history tour, a snowshoe waterfall hike, pet-friendly treks, gorge walks, canal artifacts, nature detectives and more. New entries for 2017 include the Jones Beach boardwalk, Gilbert Lake’s wilderness trail, Green Lakes’ hike around the lakes, Seneca Lake and the Cayuga-Seneca Canal, exploring Grafton’s lakes and following along the Old Croton Aqueduct.
If weather conditions permit, some First Day Hikes may include snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Many hikes will be offering refreshments. A listing and details about hike locations, difficulty and length, terrain, registration requirements and additional information are available at nysparks.com.
Fourth of July weekend is a great weekend to spend in a State Park or Historic Site. You can build sand castles at Hither Hills State Park to camp on the banks of Lake Erie at Evangola State Park, fish in the St. Lawrence River at Wellesley Island State Park, listen to a reading of the Declaration of Independence at Stony Point Battlefield State Historic Site, take a hike, enjoy the forest and more. Find out all that State Parks has to offer this weekend at nysparks.com.