The thought of exercising anything more than good judgment on New Year's Day is probably the last thing many people want to do. Traditionally, it's a day of rest -- and for some recovery -- and watching football.

That still will be the case for some, but Nita Settina is hoping Marylanders will take advantage of a new program established by the association of state park directors: First Day Hikes in all 50 states, including at 17 of Maryland's 66 state parks.

Settina, superintendent of the Maryland Park Service for the past four years and an avid hiker since her childhood in Western Pennsylvania, said her interest in the program is two-fold: familiarizing local residents with the trails and helping them find a healthy, lifelong activity such as hiking.

"We want to get people outdoors, especially families with children," Settina said. "It's reducing stress, connecting with nature, simplifying your life occasionally. State parks really produce that respite."

Settina said the Maryland Park Service has paid special attention to the trails "so they would be lower maintenance, much more sustainable."

"We're really trying to invest in our trail system to make it the best experience that we can," she added.

Settina said she and her fellow park directors across the country thought that the First Day Hike would be, in essence, a type of New Year's resolution along with other more traditional promises that in reality might be harder to keep.

Though Maryland is expected to experience a La Nina winter with unseasonably warm temperatures, "hiking in the winter is wonderful exercise, you burn a lot of calories walking in the cold, the body stays warm while it's exercising," Settina said. "It's a very inexpensive gym membership."

Ajax Eastman briefly held a gym membership years ago, but she gave it up when she discovered that walking in her Baltimore neighborhood as well at Gunpowder State Park was more invigorating, more engaging and simply more enjoyable.

Now 79, Eastman has often spent New Year's Day at the Ilia Fehrer Beach Walk on Assateague Island, but she hopes to get out closer to home now that the Maryland Park Service has established the First Day Hike program.

"Maryland is such a great state for hiking because of the variance in topography, in ecosystems," said Eastman, who serves on the Maryland Park Service's advisory commission. "It gives people a chance to be out in nature, exercising."

Settina said hiking is a particularly great exercise for women.

"You're not getting the pounding of jogging, and you can hike relatively fast so you can get your heart rate up, and your weight-bearing exercises for bone strength," she said. "It's a lifelong exercise, which is why it's so important to get young children involved and being in the woods and being more comfortable with that."

Settina hikes and bikes throughout the state, but she often finds herself at Patapsco State Park, which she said has gained a national reputation, particularly for mountain biking.

"You feel like you're in Montana, you can't hear civilization, you can't see it, the trees are big, the water bubbling in the creeks and it's pretty special when you consider you're only 30 minutes from a major metropolitan area," she said.

The First Day Hike will also be a way to familiarize those who walk for exercise on treadmills and in their neighborhoods with nearby state parks.

"It's amazing people I talk to my age and younger who never hiked in a state park," Settina said. "They want to, but they don't know anyone who does it or they don't know where to go. It's just one of those things."

The First Day Hikes will also help promote the Park Quest program that has grown in popularity since Settina took over. That program, which Settina adopted from a similar one in Connecticut and runs between Memorial Day and Labor Day, is a family-friendly activity-based scavenger hunt.

"It's similar in terms of awareness and to get people to do things they've never done before," Settina said. "I think it's so important to the fabric of your life to try different things with your friends or your family."