If exercising and getting in tune with nature top your list of New Year’s resolutions, New York State Parks have just the ticket with their new schedule of winter activities.
Events are free and open to all ages, but registration is encouraged.
The schedule kicks off on New Year’s Day with a First Day Hike, planned for four state parks in Niagara County. State Parks interpreters will run programs from 1 to 3 p.m. at Niagara Falls State Park and from 1 to 3:30 p.m. at Whirlpool State Park in Niagara Falls; from 1 to 3 p.m. at Fort Niagara State Park in Youngstown; and from 2 to 4 p.m. at Wilson Tuscarora State Park in Wilson.
Guided walks will introduce participants to many of the unique features of each of these parks.
“Last year was the first year we participated, and we’ve added more sites this year,” said Susan Diachun,an environmental educator with the state parks’ Niagara Region Interpretive Programs Office.
“The whole idea is to get out and do something a little bit different and focus on the outdoors, not just partying,” she said with a laugh.
New York joins 49 other states in participating in these First Day Hikes. There are currently 634 guided walks planned that day throughout the nation’s 7,804 state parks, according to America’s State Parks’ website. The hikes offer “individuals and families an opportunity to begin the New Year rejuvenating and connecting with the outdoors by taking a healthy hike at a state park.”
The local programs continue Jan. 12, with an Ice Bridge display at the Visitors Center and short, guided walk to Prospect Point in Niagara Falls State Park set from 10 a.m. to noon. This program will be repeated from 2 to 4 p.m. Jan. 26, Feb. 2, Feb. 16 and March 2.
“It’s quite a series,” Diachun said. “We talk about how and when it forms and also about some of the rather startling history of the ice bridges. For example, in 1912, three people died when the ice bridge broke up and they drowned. “
Also on Jan. 12, a Winter Trail Days event is set from 1 to 3 p.m. at Reservoir State Park in Lewiston. Guides will offer snowshoeing if the weather permits, and Diachun said the site has a new building to provide shelter and warmth for program participants.
“We offer the use of the snowshoes for free, and it’s a lot of fun, if we have snowshoe weather,” Diachun said. “Last year, we had only one program the entire winter where we could use snowshoes.”
Diachun said no prior experience is needed, and it is recommended for children around age 8 and older .
A “Snowshoe Full Moon Hike” is slated from 7 to 9 p.m. Jan. 26 at Buckhorn Island State Park on Grand Island.
The State Parks’ naturalists also will offer a new “Groundhog Day Walk” in DeVeaux Woods State Park from 10 a.m. to noon Feb. 2.
“This is kind of fun,” Diachun said. “We have a state worker who is actually from Punxsutawney, Pa. [home of Punxsutawney Phil, whose appearance some believe helps determine the length of winter]. We’ll talk a bit about groundhogs that day and have some fun groundhog crafts.”
Folks are invited back to DeVeaux Woods from 7 to 9 p.m. Feb. 14 for a “Valentine’s Day Candle Lantern Snowshoe Walk.” Sip some hot chocolate while making your own lantern and discover the park on wooden snowshoes through folklore and star-gazing.
Learn more about the significant migratory paths birds take right through our region with “Birding on the River” from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 23 at Beaver Island and Buckhorn Island State parks on Grand Island.
Still hoping for snow, the first “Hot Chocolate Hike/Snowshoe Hike” takes place from 2 to 4 p.m. March 2 in the DeVeaux Woods State Park. Participants are encouraged to bring their favorite mugs.
And, rounding out local State Parks offerings, the “First Day of Spring Hike” is planned for 10 a.m. to noon March 20 at Reservoir State Park.
To register for events in Niagara County and on Grand Island, call 282-5154.