STATE WE’RE IN: Start 2014 on right foot with First Day hike

by Michelle Byers
If you’re one of millions planning to “turn over a new leaf” in 2014 with more exercise and “Vitamin N” — nature — here’s a great way to start off on the right foot.
   New Jersey’s state parks will host First Day Hikes on Wednesday, Jan. 1, as part of a national movement to kick off a healthier New Year.
   You have no excuse not to join in with 23 guided hikes, two mountain bike rides and a horseback ride! All hikes are free, and most are child-friendly and allow leashed dogs.
   For history buffs, the first hike of the day starts at 7:30 a.m. and is a “real-time” tour of the Battle of Princeton. Meet at Princeton Battlefield Park and trace the steps of American and British troops at the exact time of day as the original battle in 1777.
   Another early hike, for those didn’t hit the champagne too hard, is the 8:45 a.m. Highlands Trail Hike from Spruce Run Reservoir in Clinton to Voorhees State Park in Lebanon Township. This is a challenging 15-mile hike along rail trail, roads and rugged mountain paths.
   For those who want to start the new year “down the shore,” Island Beach State Park has planned one-hour nature hikes at 9, 10 and 11 a.m., noon and 1 p.m. Explore the ecology of the park and its unique history.
   If you’d rather start New Year’s Day in bed, you still have plenty of options. The First Day Nature Hike at Cheesequake State Park in Matawan will begin at a very civilized 1 p.m., and so will hikes at Monmouth Battlefield State Park and historic Waterloo Village.
   Walkers on wheels — as in strollers and wheelchairs — can join the First Day Amble at Monmouth Battlefield State Park in Manalapan, a leisurely hike that begins at noon. Families can enjoy wide, accessible paths, and leashed dogs are welcome. Warm up after the hike with coffee, tea and hot chocolate.
   Skylands Botanical Garden at Ringwood State Park will hold another easy, family-friendly hike, beginning at 1 p.m. No doggies are allowed here, though.
   A great nature hike in the Pine Barrens will be held at 10 a.m. at New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s Franklin Parker Preserve in Chatsworth. This 3-mile hike will explore the reservoirs and bogs of this former cranberry farm, now a haven for birds and wildlife.
   And First Day isn’t just for hikers!
   Kittatinny Valley State Park in Blairstown will hold a First Day horseback ride at 10 a.m. It’s a bring-your-own-horse event, and riders are encouraged to pack food to share at a potluck lunch. If you prefer your own feet, join the Paulinskill Valley rail trail hike in another section of the park at 10 a.m.
   Belleplain State Forest in Woodbine will ring in the new year with a hike and a mountain bike ride. The hike starts at 10 a.m. and will follow the East Creek Trail for 3.5 miles. The bike ride begins at 11 a.m. on a newly-created 10-mile mountain bike trail.
   Another First Day bike ride will be held at Wharton State Forest. The ride will leave Batsto Village at 10:30 a.m. and will follow mountain bike trails for 6 to 10 miles.
   But these are just a small sampling!
   For a full list of First Day events — including detailed descriptions, registration information and meeting places — go to the state Department of Environmental Protection webpage at
   Get outside on the first day of the New Year and move your muscles, enjoy nature and learn some local history! It’s a fantastic way to start a happy and healthy 2014 and explore some new places in this state we’re in!
    Michele Byers is executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. For more information, contact her at or visit NJCF’s website at