For the past several years, state parks and other sites across the nation have offered First Day Hikes as an active way to welcome the new year. This year, considering the calamitous events that have marked most of 2020, there may be more symbolism in the act of getting 2021 off on the right footing.
Greg Bruner, who will lead a First Day Hike at the Prater's Mill Historic Site in Dalton, Georgia, said the forecast may affect turnout Friday, but he believes people cooped up because of COVID-19 concerns may still be willing to brave the rain for a chance to safely mingle with others outdoors.
"The whole COVID isolation this year has really been a catalyst for people to get outdoors and discover the outdoors," he said. "I think this year, particularly, it becomes an outlet for people to find a new sanctuary."
Bruner said masks will be worn and social distancing observed in the guided hike along the Norma Gordon Nature Loop and the Prater's Mill Greenway. No special skills or equipment will be needed, just clothes and shoes appropriate for the weather and maybe binoculars to better take in the sights.
"This is a non-strenuous, easy trail that we'll be going on," he said. "We'll adjust our activity level to accommodate whoever comes out."
Other First Day Hikes will take place at state parks in the region. Not all are guided. Booker T. Washington State Park is hosting a "virtual" event, inviting hikers to participate "anywhere at anytime," then post a photo to Facebook and tag it to the park. Not all First Day Hikes happen Jan. 1. Hiwassee/Ocoee State Park has delayed its outing until Saturday, and Fall Creek Falls is inviting self-guided hikes the first full week of January.
Last year, according to America's State Parks calculations, nearly 85,000 people took part in First Day Hikes, collectively covering more than 176,366 miles and burning calories equal to 41,348 fast-food hamburgers.
Here's a look at some of the closest hikes to Chattanooga. Find more information at www.stateparks.org/special-programs/first-day-hikes/ and https://americanhiking.org/first-day-hikes/.
* Where: Prater's Mill Historic Site, 5845 Georgia Highway 2, Dalton
* When: 3 p.m. Friday (meet on the porch of the mill)
* Details: A guided hike on a nature trail, suitable for children and adults.
* Leader: Greg Bruner, 706-264-3952
* For more information: email@example.com
* Where: Booker T. Washington State Park
* When: 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Friday
* Details: This virtual hike can be accomplished anywhere at any time while the park is open, but post a photo to Facebook, tagging Booker T. Washington State Park, to be counted in the national roundup.
* For more information: https://tnstateparks.com/events/details/#/?event=virtual-first-day-hike
* Where: Hiwassee/Ocoee Scenic River State Park, Delano
* When: 10 a.m.-noon Saturday (meet at Gee Creek office)
* Details: This easy, 2-mile hike on the park's Loop Trail will explore the area's Cherokee natives and the old town of Austral.
* For more information: https://tnstateparks.com/parks/hiwassee-ocoee
* Where: Fall Creek Falls State Park
* When: 10-11 a.m. Friday (meet at main overlook)
* Details: This ranger-led hike will begin at the Fall Creek Falls overlook and descend to the base of the falls. The out-and-back is less than a mile, but is strenuous. Bring a hiking stick if you have one.
* For more information: https://tnstateparks.com/events/details/#/?event=first-hike-at-fall-creek-falls-1000
* Where: Fall Creek Falls State Park
* When: Any time Jan. 1-7
* Details: If the waterfall hike isn't doable, opt for a self-guided First Day Hike within the park anytime the first week of January, then log your mileage online.
* For more information: https://tnstateparks.com/events/details/#/?event=selfguided-first-day-hikes
* Where: South Cumberland State Park, Beersheba Springs
* When: 9-11 a.m. CST Friday (meet at 1183 Stone Door Road)
* Details: This pleasant, 2-mile guided hike will take visitors to the best overlook in the park.
* For more information: https://tnstateparks.com/events/details/#/?event=first-day-hike-at-stone-door1
* Where: Little River Canyon National Preserve, Fort Payne
* When: 9 a.m. CST Friday (meet at Horse Trailer Parking on DeKalb County Road 295, about 10 miles from the park)
* Details: A morning hike on the YCC Loop Trail is a moderate 3.5 miles with some loose rocks on the roads and trail, a couple of short but steep hills and one shallow creek crossing. The trail may be slippery in places due to mud and leaf cover. Rangers ask that you wear bright clothing.
* For more information: 256-845-9605 (call before leaving home if weather is questionable), https://www.alapark.com/1st-Day-Hike-LRC
* Where: DeSoto State Park
* When: 1 p.m. CST Friday (starts at the Gilliam Loop Trailhead, past DeSoto's Lodge on the cabin road)
* Details: Guides on the afternoon hike, a 3.5-mile, moderate round trip on the old Civilian Conservation Corps roadbed, will relate the history of several original CCC structures and why the "unfinished" bridge was left standing.
* Leader: Brittney Hughes, 256-845-0051, Brittney.Hughes@dcnr.alabama.gov
* For more information: https://www.alapark.com/1st-Day-Hike-DSP
Email Lisa Denton at firstname.lastname@example.org.