09Hike First Day Hikes began in North Carolina more than 40 years ago with the inaugural First Day Hike at Eno River State Park in Durham. Today, park rangers lead more than 400 First Day Hikes in all 50 states, including hikes in every North Carolina state park. There is also one in Spring Lake. The Carver’s Creek State Park First Day Hike is set for Jan. 1 at 11 a.m., and it is free to attend.

The First Day Hike initiative is promoted by America’s state parks and the National Association of State Parks Directors. The program is part of an effort to showcase the state park systems, familiarizing people with activities available to them close to home, usually at no cost. It also encourages healthy lifestyles, family time and year-round use of the country’s parks.

State Park Ranger Colleen Bowers oversees the First Day Hikes at Carvers Creek State Park. She said they try to offer a variety of monthly hikes to encourage people of all ages to participate. There are three options for the First Day Hikes. The 3-mile History Hike teaches hikers about the history of Carver’s Creek and allows access to areas of the park normally closed to the public. The 2-mile Nature Hike guides participants through the diminishing longleaf pine forest, teaching them about the longleaf ecosystem and its importance.

The 1-mile Hansel and Gretel Hike is geared toward younger hikers, with participants following a “bread crumb” trail of laminated crumb signs with an activity or nature quote at each stop and a clue leading to the next “crumb.” Participants in any of the hikes can get park stickers, bracelets and pins.

The park opened in September of 2013, and the initial First Day Hike on Jan.1, 2015, was attended by close to 50 hikers. While general attendance at Carvers Creek State Park decreased after Hurricane Matthew damaged a dam and the 100-acre millpond at the park in 2016, attendance at the First Day Hikes has continually grown, primarily due to increased publicity of the event and the variety of hikes offered, according to Bowers.

Bowers added that she felt the turnout for First Day Hikes was a good indicator of how well the program has been received. “It is definitely successful as seen by the number of participants,” she said. “It gets people excited to get out and take part in park hikes and acts as an incentive to start and keep their New Year’s resolutions.”

Visitors who participate in the North Carolina State Parks 100-Mile Challenge can add First Day Hike miles to their 100-mile Challenge totals. The 100-Mile Challenge encourages North Carolinians to walk, hike, run, bike, paddle, roll, ride or skate anywhere in the state’s great outdoors to accumulate 100 miles, earning prizes along the way. To learn more about the 100-mile challenge, visit www.nc100miles.org.

First Day hikers are encouraged to bring plenty of drinking water, dress appropriately for the weather and wear shoes/boots suited for the type of hike they plan to do. Most parks allow pets to accompany hikers, provided they are on a leash. Check the regulations on the specific parks’ pages at www.ncparks.gov. Hikers are also asked to be aware of changing weather conditions as some events could be canceled due to inclement weather.

Learn more about Carvers Creek State Park and its First Day Hikes by visiting www.ncparks.gov/carvers-creek-state-park or by calling 910-436-4681.

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