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A "First Day" Hike Around Saint Mary's Lake, MD

Jill likes cooking, writing, painting, & stewardship, and studies gardening through MD Master Gardener & Master Naturalist programs.

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"First Day" Hikes

"First Day" Hikes are New Year's Day hikes sponsored by U.S. state parks.

They take place January 1 on state park hiking trails throughout the country, and are a healthy way to begin the New Year.

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.

— John Muir, Naturalist

Adults and children may participate. Just show up at the designated place and time at a participating state park in your area, appropriately dressed and shod for the weather.

It's also a good idea to take along water and, if you like to bird watch or take photos, binoculars and a camera as well.

Dogs are also welcome, so long as they're leashed.

Our "First Day" Hike

A group of hikers in St. Mary's County, MD, take  "First Day" Hike at St. Mary's River State Park on New Year's Day 2017.

A group of hikers in St. Mary's County, MD, take "First Day" Hike at St. Mary's River State Park on New Year's Day 2017.

On January 1, 2017, my husband and I joined the "First Day" Hike at St. Mary's River State Park in our home state of Maryland. It was our first time, and it was a rewarding way to start the New Year.

I'd read about the hike in the Maryland Department of Natural Resources e-newsletter. Information about First Day Hikes is also available at state DNR websites.

We were surprised by the number of hikers, many of whom had participated the previous year. They ranged from senior citizens to teens, from singletons to entire families.

Even a dog, Loki, an energetic five-year-old black Lab, went on the hike.

St. Mary's Lake

A view of St. Mary's Lake from the trail.

A view of St. Mary's Lake from the trail.

Led by a local ranger, the hike began at 10AM from the park's parking lot.

The plan? To walk 1.5 miles along the hiking trail that circles St. Mary's Lake then back again—with the option of hiking the complete 7+ mile trail for those who felt up to it.

Navigating the Trail

The ranger set a good pace for our group, and I found myself watching my feet to avoid tripping on the rooty path more than taking in the scenery.

About a half-mile in we took a break at a wooden bridge over a creek, and he gave a brief talk on a program for veterans and college students that the Department of Natural Resources sponsors. A few minutes later, we were off again.

Hikers step over tree roots on the trail.

Hikers step over tree roots on the trail.

First Day Hikes are led by Department of Natural Resources rangers.

First Day Hikes are led by Department of Natural Resources rangers.

Falling Behind

Our stop gave me a chance to look around and, distracted by the beauty of the winter forest, I fell behind as I stopped to take photographs.

My husband lagged behind with me.

We saw a surprising amount of greenery, including American holly, some with red berries, and clumps of fern that, sheltered by the heavy tree canopy, had escaped the frost.

Most interesting to me, though, were the pin oak leaves which glowed like rubies on the drab forest floor— such colorful surprises.

I was also taken with all the numerous fallen trees and the bracket fungi which, upon close inspection, contained an astonishing array of delicate colors.

Blue turkey-tail fungi on a tree stump.

Blue turkey-tail fungi on a tree stump.

'It's a dangerous business . . . going out your door . . . there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.'

— Gandalf in Tolkien's The Hobbit

A fallen pine tree.

A fallen pine tree.

Frilly fungi.

Frilly fungi.

Exploring the Woods

The woods around St. Mary's Lake are mostly composed of pine trees and oak trees, as well as a small number of ghostly beech trees with pale gray trunks and papery leaves.

Understory plants include lowbush blueberry shrubs and greenbrier.

Beech tree leaves.

Beech tree leaves.

The quantity of pine needles everywhere was amazing.

They were underfoot as well as overhead, doing splits on oak branches and hanging on holly trees like Christmas ornaments.

taking-a-first-day-hike

End of the Line

Eventually, we caught back up with the group, but the trail had narrowed, and we were at the end of the line.

If you ain't the lead dog, the scenery never changes.

— Lewis Grizzard, American humorist

My husband and I find ourselves at the end of the trail of hikers.

My husband and I find ourselves at the end of the trail of hikers.

We decide to fall behind.

We decide to fall behind.

Enjoying the Hike

We slogged on for perhaps a quarter mile then, bored by the view, agreed to fall back again and enjoy the trail at our leisure.

I took photographs until my camera battery died, then we hiked back to the trailhead.

Eventually, we have the woods (almost) to ourselves.

Eventually, we have the woods (almost) to ourselves.

By the time we returned to the parking lot, we'd hiked a little over three miles, and completed our First Day Hike.

It was a good way— a healthy, peaceful way— to begin the New Year, and we plan to make it a tradition.

What About You?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Jill Spencer

Comments

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on November 28, 2017:

Peggy, thanks so much for stopping by. Last year was the first I'd heard of the first day hikes. It was a great way to start the year and I hope we do it again in 2018.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 27, 2017:

I had never heard of these "First Day" hikes but love hiking in parks anytime of the year. Your photos are absolutely stunning! Thanks for sharing them with us.

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on January 05, 2017:

So true, Blond Logic. I've been trying that with my morning walk-- actively looking for something new along the way every time. It works! And helps me keep going. Thanks so much for commenting. Best, Jill

Mary Wickison from Brazil on January 05, 2017:

This is the first time I've heard of this. I think it is a great idea to reconnect with nature as a way of celebrating a new year. Every time you go out, even if it is the same route, you see something different.

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on January 04, 2017:

It was a good day, MsDora. Wish you could have come with us. Thanks so much for stopping by. --Jill

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 04, 2017:

What a great idea to begin the New Year. Thanks for sharing your walk, something I would surely like to do.

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on January 04, 2017:

Nice to hear from you, Larry. Thanks for reading! --Jill

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on January 03, 2017:

Great read.

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on January 03, 2017:

I think you'd enjoy the hike, Donna. Thanks for commenting! Best, Jill

Donna Herron from USA on January 03, 2017:

Wow, sounds like you had an amazing day and hike, Jill. I wish I knew about this program before - sounds really wonderful. I'm definitely putting this on the calendar for next year. Thanks for introducing me to this great program!

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on January 02, 2017:

Fantastic! We enjoyed temps in the 50s, but our hike was invigorating too, although probably not as much as yours. lol. Happy New Year! --Cheers, Jill

Richard Francis Fleck from Denver, Colorado on January 02, 2017:

My wife, daughter and I took our First Day hike around Rockland Lake outside of Nyack, NY --it was cold, gray and rainy but INVIGORATING!