Naturalists at several Minnesota state parks are ready to help hikers and snowshoers start off the new year on a good foot — if the weather doesn’t put their plans on ice.
About a dozen state parks are slated to offer “First Day Hikes” on Jan. 1 as part of a nationwide effort to get people outside, the state Department of Natural Resources has announced. But by Thursday, one — at Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne — had already been canceled because of the cold weather.
The forecast throughout Minnesota calls for a bitter start to 2018, with Monday’s expected high temperature in the Twin Cities to be 2 below zero. The high in Bemidji is forecast at 0, while Luverne hopes to reach a high of 7 below, according to the National Weather Service.
First Day Hikes is part of a movement that was born in Massachusetts in 1992 and spread across the country in 2012. New Year’s Day will mark the first time that it goes international, with parks in Ontario, Canada, expected to join in.
Though it may be easier to get hikers out in droves in warmer southern states, Minnesota typically sees a decent turnout, park officials said. Eight state parks offered First Day Hikes on Jan. 1, 2017, and 308 people participated.
Nationally, the numbers have grown in recent years, from 28,000 people participating on New Year’s Day, 2015, to 55,000 participants on Jan. 1, 2017, said Wesley Trimble, communications manager for the American Hiking Society.
“It’s always very common for folks to set New Year’s resolutions to get healthy, or be more active or spend more time with their family,” Trimble said. “First Day Hikes definitely provides an excellent opportunity to jump start 2018 getting outside.”
In Minnesota, parks scheduled to be involved on Monday range from Lake Bemidji State Park in the north to Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park in the southeast.
At Itasca State Park, an “invigorating snowshoe hike” around the headwaters of the Mississippi is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Mille Lacs Kathio State Park hopes to host a lesson for snowshoe beginners. At Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park, a hike in the underground cave promises relative warmth at 48 degrees. People have been quick to sign up for that one, filling its limited participant numbers.
In Jay Cooke State Park, near Duluth, two snowshoeing opportunities are scheduled, the first at 1 p.m. and another at 6:30 p.m. for a “First Full Moon Hike.” Interpretive park naturalist Carly Hawkinson is on deck to lead the full moon hike at Jay Cooke. But she said the hike could be canceled if the thermometer reads below zero.
But in that case, she said, disappointed hikers can always return to the park on Jan. 31 for the next full moon hike, which is held several times a year.
“It’s kind of surreal to walk under the light of the full moon. The light is shining off the snow, reflecting,” she said. “It’s like a winter wonderland out there.”
Participants will need a vehicle permit to enter state parks. Registration is required for some of the hikes. For information, including cancellations due to weather, go to http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/firstdayhike.html