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Kick off a healthy New Year with First Day hike
12/21/2016 Volume XLIX, No. 50

In the hustle and bustle of the holidays, we often eat too much and exercise too little. But with a new year coming, it’s a great time to get back on the road to fitness!

If you resolved to start 2017 on the right foot, there’s no better way than joining a First Day Hike. Nineteen New Jersey state parks will host hikes on Sunday, Jan. 1, as part of a national movement to kick off a healthier New Year.

Don’t worry if you’ve had a little too much cheer on New Year’s Eve … there are plenty of hikes to choose from, from easy to strenuous, and various starting times. And for those who prefer to get their exercise on wheels or in the saddle, there’s a bike hike and horseback ride, too.

Here are some great First Day events throughout the Garden State, from north to south.

Ringwood State Park, Passaic County - At the northern tip of New Jersey, Ringwood State Park will host self-guided family-friendly hikes from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Participants can choose between two routes: a one-mile walk in the flat terrain of the NJ State Botanical Garden and a three-mile hike in a hilly wooded area.

Kittatinny Valley State Park, Sussex County – This “rail trail” park will host a moderate four to five mile hike on level terrain beginning at 10 a.m. Folks with horses can bring their mounts for a guided ride along the Sussex Branch and Paulinskill Valley rail trails, beginning at 1 p.m.

Waterloo Village, Sussex County – Learn about the many roles Waterloo Village, located along the old Morris Canal, has played in New Jersey history during a moderate two-mile interpretive walk starting at 2 p.m.

Warren Highlands Trail, Warren County – If you’re feeling especially energetic on New Year’s Day, this strenuous, all-day hike of about 15 miles starts at 9 a.m. and may be perfect for you!

Boxwood Hall State Historic Site, Elizabeth, Union County – For an urban hike with a historic twist, try this easy 1.5-mile stroll past historic sites in the city of Elizabeth, including Alexander Hamilton’s residences. The walk starts at 1 p.m., with an optional tour of an historic cemetery afterward.

Cheesequake State Park, Middlesex County – Enjoy the beauty of the park’s rolling forested terrain on a moderate three-mile hike, starting at 1 p.m.

Washington Crossing State Park, Mercer County – Another walk for history buffs is the interpretive 1.2-mile stroll along the route taken by the Continental Army on Christmas night in 1776, starting at 10:30 a.m.

Monmouth Battlefield State Park, Monmouth County – Revolutionary War history will be on display on the grounds where the legendary Molly Pitcher fought in the Battle of Monmouth. This moderate one-mile interpretive hike begins at 11 a.m.

Bass River State Forest, Ocean and Burlington Counties – Check out the rare forest community of the “pygmy pines” during a moderately strenuous 7.4-mile ramble beginning at 10 a.m. If a shorter hike is more your speed, try the easy to moderate 3.5 to four mile walk through the Pine Barrens.

Pemberton Rail Trail, Burlington County – Explore the “dividing edge” between New Jersey’s inner and outer coastal plain on this easy to moderate two to three mile hike, starting at 10 a.m.

Atsion Recreation Area, Wharton State Forest, Burlington County – Atsion will hold two New Year’s Day hikes. The moderate 6.5-mile hike starts at 10 a.m., and the easy to moderate hike of five miles around the historic Hampton Furnace settlement begins at 11 a.m.

Belleplain State Forest, Cape May and Cumberland Counties – If mountain biking is your sport, bring your wheels to Belleplain for a moderate to difficult 10-mile ride along a twisting trail through the forest, starting at 11 a.m. For those on foot, there’s a moderate 3.5-mile hike starting at 10 a.m. along the East Creek Trail.

These are just a sampling of hikes at state parks. For a full list – including detailed descriptions, meeting places and whether dogs are allowed – go to the state Department of Environmental Protection webpage at www.nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/parks/first_day_hikes.html.

Beach Walk at Sandy Hook - If the beach is more to your liking, check out the two-mile New Year’s Day walk planned by the American Littoral Society at Sandy Hook, starting at 11 a.m. Find out more at www.littoralsociety.org/index.php/trips-a-events/new-jersey.

And if these New Year’s Day hikes have whetted your appetite for more, join New Jersey Conservation Foundation one week later, on Jan. 8, for a 1.5-mile New Year’s hike at the Hill & Dale Preserve in Tewksbury Township, Hunterdon County. Find out more at https://donate.njconservation.org/2017-new-years-hike

For all winter hikes, be sure to wear sturdy footgear and bring water and snacks. Wear appropriate clothing for the weather; layers are best for exercising in cold temperatures.

Celebrate the New Year outdoors with friends and family, getting exercise and enjoying nature. It’s a fantastic way to kick off a happy and healthy 2017 - and explore some new places in this state we’re in!

And for more information about preserving land and natural resources in New Jersey, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

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