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‘First Day Hikes’ return for 2022

State park officials are encouraging area residents to celebrate the new year with a heart-healthy hike at the region’s state parks.

“First Day Hikes” were not held in Pennsylvania last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, however, hikes are back on the schedule for New Year’s Day at state parks throughout the state, including those in Blair, Bedford and Cambria counties.

“First Day Hikes are a great way to make a resolution to enjoy nature and get more exercise and keep it on the first day of the year,” Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said in a news release.

The hikes are aimed at introducing visitors to all the recreational benefits parks have to offer.

Canoe Creek, Trough Creek, Shawnee and Prince Gallitzin state parks will each be taking part in the New Year event with guided hikes and educational information.

At Prince Gallitzin, environmental education specialist Vinny Curtis said the park is planning to welcome nearly 100 people for its First Day Hike, which is why there are two hikes at different times.

Curtis said the 2-mile informal hikes will be led by a ranger who will provide educational and identification information when something is spotted along the Bollinger Trail.

The goal, Curtis said, is to introduce people to the park to begin the new year and encourage helpful habits.

“It gives people a good start to the year in hopes to motivate people to get out in the park and enjoy nature in the coming year, not just the one time,” Curtis said.

The hikes will begin at the soccer fields off of Beaver Valley Road in Flinton, the first at 10 a.m. and the second at 2 p.m.

Jim McCorkle, manager of Shawnee and Blue Knob state parks, said the nationwide initiative has been running since 2012. The National Association of State Park Directors created the idea and all 50 states have been involved since the beginning, according to the DCNR.

McCorkle said Shawnee and Blue Knob have split playing host to the event in years past, and this year it’s Shawnee’s turn.

“We’ve got a just under2-mile hike planned along Lakeshore Trail, which is one of our most popular trails,” McCorkle said. “We’ll bounce off onto the Shawnee Trail from there and it’s a loop hike, so we’ll end up back where we started.”

According to McCorkle, Shawnee has seen a varying number of people come to the hike each year, with an average of about 30 participants.

“It’s a nice, healthy way for folks to start the year and I think it’s something for families to get out and do something healthy to start the new year off on the right foot,” McCorkle said.

McCorkle said the Friends of Shawnee and Blue Knob group will provide hot chocolate and snacks to participants and a campfire will be burning at the starting/ending point over which people can warm up.

Participants are to meet at Parking Area No. 1 in the park. The group will step off at noon and should return by 2 p.m.

Canoe Creek will be hosting two different hikes, according to the park’s environmental education specialist, Heidi Mullendore.

“The bigger hike is an hour-and-half hike through the fields and woods on trails,” Mullendore said. “And the shorter hike is the easier hike to the lime kilns and that will be a 45-minute walk.”

The shorter hike is suited for all ages and families with strollers and is handicap accessible, Mullendore said. The longer hike will be a little more challenging and will have rougher terrain at times. Leashed dogs are welcome on both trails.

Both hikes will start out at the Terry Wentz Education Center, with the longer hike starting out at 1:30 p.m. and the shorter park walk at 1:45 p.m.

Mullendore said the Friends of Canoe Creek will be waiting at the end of each hike to provide campfires and hot drinks. They will also be accepting donations for the park.

The First Day Hike at Trough Creek begins at 11 a.m. and is described as “a few short, steep inclines with many vistas of the Great Trough Creek Gorge and a stop at Balanced Rock.” Participants of the 2-mile loop hike will also see many CCC-built infrastructures along the route. There will be an easier hike available for those not wishing to go on the 2-mile loop, according to the park website.

The parks are requesting that visitors sign up if planning to join the hike so rangers know how many people to expect. Those wishing to take part can either call the park or find its hiking event on the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website to claim a spot.

“America’s State Parks provide havens for young and old alike to discover the tranquility and beauty of nature through outdoor recreation,” said Lewis Ledford, executive director of the National Association of State Park Directors. “Hiking offers inspiring ways to improve your physical and mental health, while exploring beautiful public lands in every state.”

Hikers are invited to share their experience on social media using #FirstDayHikes.

Mirror Staff Writer Nate Powles is at 814-946-7466.

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