PRINCETON — Holiday festivities were over and a new year had dawned, so people with a taste for exercise and the outdoors headed out on the first day of 2020 for a First Day Hike.
The West Virginia Department of Natural Resources offered Wednesday a program called First Day Hikes at state parks including Pipestem State Park. Some local parks offered a hiking experience, too, for enthusiasts who wanted to see the area’s opportunities for outdoor adventures.
Glenwood Park Superintendent Kevin Dials participated in First Day Hikes when he worked at a Kanawha County park, so he decided to offer the program in Mercer County. Despite windy weather and cold temperatures, about 20 hikers had signed up at the park’s Route 20 entrance near Glenwood when the hike started at 2 p.m.
“I just started here in March, but I did it at my previous job,” Dials said as people signed up. “I was at Kanawha State Forest for 12 years, and I think we did it about half the years I was there.”
Offering First Day Hikes is a way to show the public that state parks are still available during the winter, Dial said. Glenwood Park has the Garland “Bo” Bowman Memorial Lakeside Trail, which goes about 3 miles around Glenwood Lake. Bowman was the park’s superintendent from 1967 to 1989. There are about four trails going along the ridge line above the lake.
Some of the walkers who came out for the First Day Hike were familiar with the trail already. Bill O’Brien of the Princeton area said he walks the park almost every day with his dog, Lilly. Besides a warm coat and hat, O’Brien also had an aluminum hiking stick containing survival tools. A first aid kit dangled from his gear.
“I do it almost every day,” he said as the hikers headed out. “It’s an easy walking trail and it’s close to the water. That makes it more exciting.”
Wind stirs up waves across the lake, O’Brien said. Wildlife including deer and wild turkeys is a common sight as well.
Glenwood residents such as Rick Allen, who lives across Route 20 from Glenwood Park, come to the park every day.
“I come out here all the time,” Allen said. “ I walk my dog here. I walk the trails and I canoe some out here, and I fish a little bit.”
Some of the hikers had traditional wooden hiking sticks, but a member of Dials’ family – who was visiting from Cabell County – had a bright orange stick topped with a carved tiger’s head. It was her first visit to Glenwood Park’s trails.
“It’s a Vinson Tiger from Wayne County,” Dials’ aunt, Lola Casey, sang. The tiger’s the mascot of the former Vinson High School.
Dials’ father, Ron Dials, said the family always goes on First Day Hikes when a new year arrives, so visiting Mercer County was a way to visit his son and keep up the tradition.
“I’ve not walked this trail,” Ron Dials said. “For the last several years, I’ve walked at Kanawha State Forest.”
Kanawha County’s trails are more strenuous than those going through Mercer County’s forests, but Mercer County appears to have more flat land for walking, he added.
At Pipestem Resort State Park along the Mercer and Summers County line, hikers met in the McKeever Lodge lobby before heading to the trails.
Julie McQuade, the naturalist at Pipestem led the First Day Hike, which started at the park seven years ago.
Although the temperature was chilly, in the upper 30s, a record 91 hikers navigated the 3 miles starting and ending at McKeever Lodge.
McQuade said hikers are usually a mix of those staying at the lodge during the holiday, local residents and those who live out of state who are visiting relatives in the area or how have a tradition of participating.
One of those in the latter category is Donna Akers of Narrows, an accomplished road racer who also loves to hike and has participated in all but two of the First Day Hikes at the park.
Akers has traveled many places to run, including participating in the Boston, New York and Big Sur marathons, but said she loves the park and the First Day Hike.
“Here are my patches (for First Day),” she said of her coat, which had them sewn on. “I will return here next year.”
Staci Holliday and her husband, Jamaal and son Brycen of Princeton, said this was their first time participating.
“It was fun, Staci Holliday said. “It was something great to do to start the New Year off with a tradition we can continue to do.”
Jamaal Holliday said the First Day Hike as a “nice change, something we have never done before.”
“I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I did.”
Holliday said it’s easy to take local opportunities and attractions for granted and not know what is there until going out to see it.
“It was eye-opening,” he said of the park. “It really makes you appreciate what we have here.”
Brycen said he enjoyed it as well and said he may do it again.
None was concerned about the cold once they got started.
“I thought about wearing a (heavier) coat,” Jamaal Holliday said. “But I would have had to take it off. I really enjoyed it.”
Staci Holliday said it’s also a great thing for the family to do together she will come back.
“It made me feel like I was putting the New Year off to a good start,” she said.
Levi Barnhart of Martinsville, Va. was visiting relatives in the area and took the hike with them.
“I really enjoyed it,” he said. “It was also nice to see how beautiful Pipestem Park is and what is offered here.”
Barnhart said he plans to return.
McQuade said she gets that reaction a lot.
“It’s a good way for people to see the beauty here, even in the winter,” she said.