Kick off a healthy new year with First Day hike


In the hustle and bustle of the holidays, we often eat too much and exercise too little, but with a new year coming, it is a great time to get back on the road to fitness.

If you resolved to start 2017 on the right foot, there is no better way than joining a First Day Hike. Many New Jersey state parks will host hikes on Jan. 1 as part of a national movement to kick off a healthier new year.

Don’t worry if you have had a little too much cheer on New Year’s Eve … there are plenty of hikes to choose from, from easy to strenuous, and various starting times.

Here are some great First Day events throughout the Garden State:

• Cheesequake State Park, Middlesex County – Enjoy the beauty of the park’s rolling forested terrain on a moderate 3-mile hike, starting at 1 p.m.

• Washington Crossing State Park, Mercer County – Another walk for history buffs is the interpretive 1.2-mile stroll along the route taken by the Continental Army on Christmas night in 1776, starting at 10:30 a.m.

• Monmouth Battlefield State Park, Monmouth County – Revolutionary War history will be on display on the grounds where the legendary Molly Pitcher fought in the Battle of Monmouth. This moderate 1-mile interpretive hike begins at 11 a.m.

• Bass River State Forest, Ocean and Burlington counties – Check out the rare forest community of the “pygmy pines” during a moderately strenuous 7.4-mile ramble beginning at 10 a.m. If a shorter hike is more your speed, try the easy-to-moderate 3.5- to 4-mile walk through the Pine Barrens.

• Pemberton Rail Trail, Burlington County – Explore the “dividing edge” between New Jersey’s inner and outer coastal plain on this easy-to-moderate 2- to 3-mile hike, starting at 10 a.m.

• Atsion Recreation Area, Wharton State Forest, Burlington County – Atsion will hold two New Year’s Day hikes. The moderate 6.5-mile hike starts at 10 a.m., and the easy-to-moderate hike of 5 miles around the historic Hampton Furnace settlement begins at 11 a.m.

These are just a sampling of hikes at state parks. For a full list, including detailed descriptions, meeting places and whether dogs are allowed, go to the state Department of Environmental Protection webpage at /parks/first_day_hikes.html.

If the beach is more to your liking, check out the 2-mile New Year’s Day walk planned by the American Littoral Society at Sandy Hook in northern Monmouth County, starting at 11 a.m. Find out more php/trips-a-events/new-jersey

For all winter hikes, be sure to wear sturdy footgear and bring water and snacks. Wear appropriate clothing for the weather; layers are best for exercising in cold temperatures.

Celebrate the new year outdoors with friends and family, getting exercise and enjoying nature. It is a fantastic way to kick off a happy and healthy 2017 – and explore some new places in this state we’re in!

Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Far Hills.