First Day Hikes set tone for parks


Courtesy photo Shawnee State Park manager Dorothy Krupa leads a First Day Hike.

The New Year rang its way in with unseasonably cold weather, but that did not stop Pennsylvania Parks and Forest Foundation Friends Groups from celebrating 2018 with a series of First Day Hikes.

At Shawnee State Park in Schellsburg, the PPFF 2017 Park of the Year, dozens of people of all ages, along with some of their four-legged friends, turned out for a brisk hour-long walk through the forests and fields near Shawnee Lake.

While the parking lots were sparsely populated, there were more folks enjoying the frigid afternoon than you may imagine. We saw some ice fishermen, a hunter or two, and several others using the snow-covered trails, in addition to the organized activities.

Those who were on the First Day Hike were greeted by dedicated park manager, Dorothy Krupa, who also oversees Blue Knob State Park. She took the hikers on an interpretive walk, pointing out park resources and wildlife, though most of the animals seemed to be hunkered down in warmer places than their human counterparts.

As the walkers made their way back to one of the park’s pavilions, they were met by roaring campfires, hot chocolate, hot dogs and s’mores, which all seemed to hit the spot after their New Year’s Day wintertime adventure. Participants took home stickers marking their achievement, as well as the invitation to continue using Pennsylvania’s state parks throughout the year.

The First Day Hike concept began a few years ago as a nationwide initiative; more than 30 Pennsylvania State Parks, including Blair County’s Canoe Creek, planned 2018 events.

Billed as a way to get the New Year off on the right foot (or hiking boot, as the case may be), as well as a chance to walk off some holiday calories, First Day Hikes have grown since 2012 throughout the country.

Pennsylvania DCNR secretary Cindy Adams Dunn calls the events a “great cure for cabin fever,” though 2018 is believed to be the coldest of the Pennsylvania-planned events to date.

The outdoor celebration of New Year’s Day is also a reminder that Pennsylvania’s State Parks are open year round, though the wintertime program schedule is leaner than in the peak months of spring through fall. Still, state parks offer opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, ice fishing, snowmobiling, sledding and more.

Naturalist John Muir, a 19th-century conservation advocate of and a champion of the nation’s parks and forests said, “And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.”

His words, still celebrated more than a century later, will be featured on the Friends of Shawnee 2018 T-shirts, reminding today’s park-goers of the timeless, intangible benefits of enjoying the state’s natural beauty.

The commitment to preserving those resources is a New Year’s resolution shared by State Park Friends groups throughout the region and throughout Pennsylvania.

Happy New Year!

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Her column appears on Tuesdays.