If “start exercising” is on your New Year’s resolution list, grab your walking shoes and join one of the “First Day Hikes” planned for state parks Wednesday throughout the nation, including four in Niagara County.
The guided hike starts at 1 p.m. at Niagara Falls State Park, DeVeaux Woods-Whirlpool State Park and Fort Niagara State Park, and at 2 p.m. at Wilson Tuscarora State Park.
The roughly two-hour walk will feature little history lessons at each park, and even a snowshoe hike at Wilson Tuscarora, if there is enough snow.
The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation will sponsor 24 such hikes in state parks and historic sites as part of the third annual “First Day Hikes” program taking place across the nation. This event gives individuals and families an opportunity to rejuvenate and reconnect with the outdoors by taking a healthy hike on the first day of the new year at a state park or a site close to home.
“Begin a new tradition with your family and join us for an invigorating walk or hike in one of our beautiful state parks or sites this New Year’s Day,” said Rose Harvey, state parks commissioner.
The next local event planned for state parks in Niagara County, called “Niagara Nature,” is slated for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Jan. 11 at Reservoir State Park. Sledding will be featured along with ice-skating on the new, natural ice rink at the base of the sled hill. A state parks educator will be on hand in the new warming pavilion to provide fun facts on the wildlife found in the area. The new building also offers restrooms.
From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Jan. 25, and from 1 to 4 p.m. on Feb. 1 and March 8, state parks educators will present a program on the “Ice Bridge of Niagara.” All three presentations will be made at the Niagara Falls State Park.
A new program, called “’Mist’ical Photo Hike,” is planned for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 8 at Niagara Falls State Park. The hike will lead participants to many scenic views on Goat Island, with an eye on how the elements of wind affect the environment.
“We encourage people who like to do photography to take this hike,” said Carol Rogers, an environmental educator with the Niagara Frontier region of the state parks’ interpretive programs office.
Take your sweetie on a “Valentine’s Day Full Moon Adventure” from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 14 at Wilson Tuscarora State Park. This presentation will weave together stories of moon lore, history and the magic of nighttime nature. The presentation will be followed by a short walk through the woods under moonlit skies.
The very next day, Feb. 15, participants can experience “Wild Winter” from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Golden Hill State Park, on Lower Lake Road in Barker.
“This hike will be a walk on the trails, looking for signs of animals – we might even kick up some deer – and to look for birds,” Rogers said.
The parks educator also will teach participants how to look for animal tracks, and help identify plants and trees as well as discuss the natural history of the park.
“Birding on the River” is planned for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 22 at Beaver Island and Buckhorn Island state parks, where the educators will point out migratory waterfowl and other wintering birds found along the shores of the Niagara River.
“Hopefully, we’ll see some bald eagles – we know they were nesting on Strawberry Island off of Beaver Island last year,” Rogers said. “We should also see a lot of tundra swans. It all depends on the weather. When the weather is bad for people, it’s bad for the birds, especially if there are high winds, because they won’t even try to fly. We’d like it to be nice and calm with a little breeze that day – even if it’s cold, that’s OK.”
Organizers are hoping for a little snow on the ground to accommodate the next day’s event, a “Niagara River Wildlife Ski” planned for Feb. 23 at Buckhorn Island. This scenic cross-country ski over level trails is a great opportunity to see the tundra swans and many species of Arctic ducks that winter on the river. If there is no snow for skiing, the trail hike will take place on foot.
An afternoon of sledding is planned from 1 to 4 p.m. March 1 at Reservoir State Park. Sledders and their families are invited into the new warming pavilion to learn about the wildlife found in the region.
Hikers are invited to look for the first signs of spring from 2 to 4 p.m. March 9 for the “Put Some Spring Into Your Step” program at Niagara Falls State Park. A park educator will conduct a stroll around the oldest park in the U.S.
It will put people in the mood for the next program, “First Day of Spring Walk,” from 1 to 3 p.m. March 20 at Whirlpool State Park.
“We’ll walk the rim trails and look for signs of spring,” Rogers said. “We should be seeing turkey vultures by then and some red-winged blackbirds. You just have to keep your ears and eyes open. This is a good way to get out and blow the dust of winter off of you.”
The winter programs end with “Covering Your Tracks” from 10 a.m. to noon March 29 at Fort Niagara State Park.
Participants will be able to make a free plaster cast track from a rubber mold and do a variety of other track activities as well as take a look at the skulls and furs of animals found in the area. The event will be topped off with a discovery walk to look for tracks.
“We might see the tracks of deer, foxes, coyotes, squirrels or mice,” Rogers said. “You have to find the right place to track.”
Rogers noted, “We try and keep our numbers reasonable and we usually don’t go over 20 to 25 at an event, so people should definitely call and register.
“And, when they call, it gives us a chance to give them more details about the events.”
Call 285-0516 for more information and to register for all of these programs, except the Niagara River Wildlife Ski, because information on this program is available by calling 549-1050.
Details about other “First Day Hike” locations, difficulty and length, terrain and registration requirements are listed at www.nysparks.com.