MARSHALL, Ind. (AP) — No bugs. No poison ivy. No crowds.
First Day Hikes have become popular across the country as a great way to see state parks during a season when many people prefer to be warm at home on a holiday.
At Turkey Run State Park in Parke County near Marshall, a First Day Hike - so named because it occurs on the first day of the new year - took about 50 people on a quest for eagles, along cliffs and across a suspension bridge, past waterfalls and icicles.
“Hiking is not only wonderful for your physical health, but for your mental health, too,” Kristie Ridgway, the interpretive naturalist who led this year’s walk through the woods, told the Tribune-Star. “It’s a good way to breathe in what nature has to offer. So much of our landscape is breathtaking year-round.”
The Division of State Parks and Reservoirs in the Indiana Department of Natural Resources hosted 30 First Day events around the state on Wednesday. According to America’s State Parks, First Day Hikes were led in all 50 states. Last year, state parks across the country hosted 22,000 people who hiked a combined 43,911 miles.
At Turkey Run last year, the guided hike drew about 20 participants in 20-degree weather. This year, that number more than doubled, perhaps in part because of warmer temperatures in the low 40s.
“We couldn’t have had better weather,” Ridgway said. “Unfortunately, we saw no eagles, though we saw some songbirds and heard a woodpecker and saw a rabbit.”
Participating in a First Day Hike has become a tradition for many people.
Rosedale area residents Kris Murphy and her 10-year-old son, Kyadan, chose to walk with family members on the trails at Turkey Run this year after doing a hike last year at McCormick’s Creek State Park in Owen County.
“This year we decided to go to Turkey Run, and I’m glad we did,” Kris Murphy said. “The trail was better and the guide was really well-informed. We’re trying to make it a yearly tradition for us.”
Kyadan said he enjoyed breaking the ice along the trails, and walking over the new suspension bridge, which recently reopened after the previous bridge was replaced following flood damage that occurred last summer.
He also enjoyed checking out the animal pelts exhibited from some of the natural creatures sharing the park.
“I saw an otter when I was out hunting, and I saw a road kill bobcat once,” Kyadan said.
Naturalist Ridgway said bobcats are common in west-central Indiana, especially in the state park, where the sandstone cliffs and crevices provide good shelter.
River otters are also common in the streams that feed Sugar Creek, and groundhogs and beavers are also plentiful.
Hiking is a year-round activity that requires only a solid pair of boots, some outdoor clothing and perhaps a backpack with supplies such as a water bottle and compass.
The American Hiking Society and America’s State Parks estimated that more than 720 million people visit state parks each year, contributing more than $23 billion to the national economy.