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For some, the start of a new year calls for a 'First Day Hike'

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

Many people start New Year's Day with an aspirin or maybe eating a little brunch and then maybe watching some college football. But for some, tomorrow will be a chance to do something good for their bodies, even if the gym is closed. They'll go take a hike. The tradition of what's called First Day Hikes goes back more than three decades. It started in Massachusetts, so we invited Julie Martin to talk about it. She's director of visitor experience and programs for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. Welcome to the program, Julie.

JULIE MARTIN: Thank you so much, Rob. We're really excited to welcome people. Our staff are preparing and getting ready.

SCHMITZ: Julie, I want to go back a little, and I want to understand what was the idea behind these First Day Hikes in the first place?

MARTIN: So the idea of a First Day Hike actually started at the Blue Hills Reservation in Milton. The park supervisor there at the time - his name is Pat Flynn - he wanted people to recognize that parks aren't just places where people can go and recreate in the summer. So when he was a seasonal worker in Ohio State Parks in the '70s, they had a popular program in February where they brought people out to hike, and they offered them soup. And he said, this would be a wonderful idea to try here in Massachusetts. So in 1992, he started First Day Hikes and ran a program, and almost 400 hikers came that day. And, shall we say, the rest is history.

SCHMITZ: And walk me - or hike me - through this. What do folks do on this day, and how big has it gotten?

MARTIN: The hikes have grown substantially. So in the spring of 2011, Priscilla Geigis, our then-director of state parks and now our deputy commissioner for conservation and resource stewardship, brought the idea to other state park directors in the Northeast. And they loved the idea. And they decided that they were going to challenge all of the state park directors in all 50 states to offer a First Day Hike. And on January 1, 2012, 400 hikes were held across the country as part of America's state parks' First Day Hikes.

SCHMITZ: Wow. And now these hikes tend to be, I understand, on the short side, between 1 and 3 miles. And now, is that to appeal to more the casual hiker?

MARTIN: Yes, it is. It's really an idea to welcome hikes for anybody. So it could be families. It could be individuals. And they're all guided and led by staff and really to help people feel comfortable with being out on our trails and helping them to perhaps come out on First Day, and then they'll feel comfortable going on our trails alone. And they make sure that the hikes are safe for everybody. And they lead them, and they make sure that there's a sweep person at the end to make sure nobody's left behind. And then they help with making sure everybody gets a nice warm cup of hot chocolate at the end of the hike.

SCHMITZ: So if listeners wanted to take part in a First Day Hike tomorrow, how could they find one nearby?

MARTIN: They could find one by going to our website, mass.gov/dcr. And if you're outside of Massachusetts, you can check out stateparks.org, and that lists all of the hikes across the nation.

SCHMITZ: Julie Martin, director of visitor experience and programs for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation Recreation, thank you so much.

MARTIN: Thank you, Rob. Happy New Year.

SCHMITZ: Happy New Year.

(SOUNDBITE OF L'IMPERATRICE'S "ODYSSEE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
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