Time for a Walk in the Woods

The end of December means the New Year is just a few days away, and the start of a new year means new beginnings and celebrations. One of the celebrations in 2016 is commemorating America’s best idea, national parks, as the National Park Service has reached its centennial year.  In South Carolina, the National Park Service has been an integral part of our existence and development. South Carolina’s state parks were born out of the Civilian Conservation Corps and under the watchful eye of the National Park Service. Before the CCC, Stephen Mather was appointed as the first director of the National Park Service, a new agency created within the Department of the Interior in 1916. He served until 1929, during which time Mather created a professional civil service organization, established systematic criteria for adding new properties to the federal system, and promoted the need to protect and make available other great places for state parks. This concept is now referred to as a “seamless system of parks,” serving visitors regardless of the patch on the uniform as stewards for the state and nation’s most treasured resources.  In 2016 we’ll kick off the year with our National Park Service colleagues and celebrate America’s Best Idea with a South Carolina twist by adding eight National Park Service properties to our “ultimate outsider” campaign, and many other joint programs throughout the year.

It’s time to celebrate, make resolutions and start the year off on the right foot (literally) and a First Day Hike is the perfect way to do just that!  First Day Hikes are part of a nationwide initiative led by America’s State Parks to encourage people to get outdoors. What better way to start the New Year than getting a jump start burning off those holiday calories? 

All 50 state park systems across the nation are helping individuals and families welcome the coming year in the outdoors by exercising and connecting with nature and each other.  Last year nearly 28,000 people rang in the New Year in a state park, collectively hiking over 66,000 miles throughout the country.  This year we welcome the National Park Service in onthe fun with us. There will be both National Park Service and State Park Service rangers at several First Day Hikes at South Carolina State Parks. Congaree National Park will also join in on the First Day with us and host their own event at the park.  I’ll be participating in a couple of First Day Hikes myself and hope to see you on the trail.

On my First Day Hikes last year I picked up more than I thought I would. I was expecting the reward of a walk in the woods, the sounds and smells of the forest, and as always, a little bit of the unexpected from nature. What I didn’t expect was to watch so many hikers experience the incredibly therapeutic power of nature. When people started on the trail, you could see them almost magically leaving behind the troubles of the past year; smiles appeared and anxiety was replaced by wonderment.  As we walked down the trail, a ranger pointed out things we may have missed without an informed hat and badge leading the procession deeper into the forest. I was so impressed with the ranger’s ability to not interfere with nature’s capability to capture an audience all by herself and watch so many make discoveries on their own. Like a red tailed hawk watching us from a limb just off the trail- fingers pointed, mouths dropped and eyes widened.  At the end of the hike, only a few people went directly to their cars. And why would you? The world awaits back at the car. There will be time for that, but right now there are memories to be made and savored.  

As I walked toward the parking lot, I couldn’t help but think of John Muir’s quote: “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” Yes indeed, even for this old park ranger. I’m looking forward to my First Day Hikes and hope that you can join along. I’m betting you will receive more than you bargained for as well.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a joyous holiday season!

See you in the parks!

Phil