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First-day hikes a way to 'get off on the right foot,’ explore Maryland parks

First-day hikers in North Point State Park work their way around a large puddle on the park's Black Marsh Trail. Hundreds of Marylanders turned out at state parks for New Year's Day hikes.
First-day hikers in North Point State Park work their way around a large puddle on the park's Black Marsh Trail. Hundreds of Marylanders turned out at state parks for New Year's Day hikes. (Sun Staff / Baltimore Sun)

Hundreds of adults, children and dogs took their first steps of the new year in Maryland state parks on Wednesday, marking the arrival of 2020 with first-day hikes that have become an increasingly popular ritual across the country.

Starting early in the day and continuing throughout the afternoon, park rangers and volunteers led 40 guided hikes on 33 state lands, from Herrington Manor State Park in Western Maryland to Assateague State Park on the Atlantic coast. The hike at Calvert Cliffs State Park in Southern Maryland was to include a hunt for fossilized shark teeth.

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About 70 men and women, some carrying toddlers on their backs and some with dogs on leashes, hiked along a trail, muddy in spots and with beaver ponds on either side, in North Point State Park in Baltimore County.

Led by ranger-in-training Mike Hook, hikers passed under huge tulip poplars and by a grove of holly trees. They stepped over trees taken down by beavers, negotiated wooden planks that served as a foot bridge over water, looked through and over marsh grass for signs of life — the beavers, ducks, river otters, muskrat and great blue herons in residence.

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The vistas included two beaver lodges. Birders said they were hoping to spot snow buntings that have been seen in the park. Children discovered a bullfrog along the trail.

“We love this state park,” said Matt Klos, who, with his wife, Kat, hiked with their five children: Isaac, 12; Owen, 10; Lola, 6; Stella, 4; and 2-year-old Celia in a baby carrier. The family lives in Edgemere and makes frequent visits to the nearby park.

At the other end of the age spectrum was Bob Carson, an 85-year-old retired physical education instructor in Baltimore County. With his hiker gear and poles, he looked the part of experienced trekker, and with good reason. “I hiked the Appalachian Trail,” he said. “I hiked it in sections. It took me seven or eight years.”

Rob Fendlay hiked with his daughters, Aimee, 17, a senior at Sparrows Point High School, and Emilee, 20, who is studying to be a teacher. “I had no trouble getting them out of bed this morning,” Fendlay said. “In fact, they woke me up. … We’ve done a lot in the outdoors together.”

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Jared Dwelle brought his cousin, Bonnie Hartman, from Baltimore for a good walk to start the new year. “I wanted to get off on the right foot,” he said.

Erin and John Long came from Dundalk with three dogs. “Every year we come for these first-day hikes — they seem to get more popular,” John Long said.

State officials were expecting up to 4,000 Marylanders to visit parklands on the first day of the year. On New Year’s Day 2019, when temperatures in central Maryland hit the mid-60s, about 3,700 people participated in 36 different first-day hikes. That was triple the previous year’s hiker count, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

Across the country, the National Association of State Park Directors estimates that 55,000 people went on first-day hikes. The association, through an alliance called America’s State Parks, has been promoting the Jan. 1 treks for about 10 years.

In the Baltimore area, first-day hikers also hit trails in Patapsco Valley State Park in Baltimore County; Gunpowder, Susquehanna and Rocks state parks in Harford County; Patuxent River State Park in Howard County; and Sandy Point State Park in Anne Arundel County.

One of the longest of the organized hikes was in the McKeldin area of Patapsco Valley State Park in Carroll County. Hikers in Queen Anne’s County meandered through an old-growth forest in the Wye Island Natural Resource Management Area. Those who opted for a New Year’s walk through Blackwater Wildlife Refuge heard about the region’s historic connections to Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.

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