State parks ring in New Year with winter recreation


Author John Burroughs wrote: “He who marvels at the beauty of the world in summer will find equal cause for wonder and admiration in winter.”

With the holidays behind us, winter has truly set in, and our state parks are hoping we do anything but take a long nap.

Across the region and across the country, outdoors lovers celebrated the New Year with a “First Day Hike,” guided walks through the woods or around a lake, presented by America’s State Parks.

The free events, promoted by partner organizations like the American Hiking Society, were designed to provide a fun and accessible activity for the whole family, reminding us that state parks are open year-round for our enjoyment.

And this is a great time of year to get outside. The health benefits of wintertime recreation go beyond the crisp fresh air, and include much-needed, sun-provided vitamin D, which is in short supply during shortened daylight hours.

Parks across the nation encourage families to utilize the recreational opportunities they provide 365 days of the year; here in our area, parks like Canoe Creek, Blue Knob, Shawnee, Trough Creek and others offer cold-weather activities from hiking and hunting to ice fishing, boating, cross-country skiing, sledding and even skating.

Winter hikes offer a unique look at lakes, forests and fields. A coating of snow makes it easy to see wildlife moving through the woods and seasonal birds abound, including eagles in our region.

America’s State Parks promote outdoor physical activity as one way to combat childhood obesity and related conditions like diabetes, on the rise due to the seemingly-increasing sedentary lifestyle, often embraced by a video game-cellphone-obsessed generation.

The parks are accessible to us thanks to the vision and dedication of Maurice Goddard, who served the Commonwealth’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources from 1955-1979. His goal was to provide a state park within 25 miles of every Pennsylvania resident. Today, our state boasts one of the greatest park systems in the land.

If you’d like a special challenge, mark your calendar for Feb. 4, the annual Polar Plunge at Canoe Creek State Park to benefit Special Olympics Pennsylvania. The organization playfully calls the plunge events, nine in all across the state, “freezin’ for a reason,” raising funds for their year-round athletic programs.

Whether it’s for a fundraiser, a workout, or just a peaceful outdoor moment, the parks are calling.

Goodman Shaffer can be reached at