Peninsula residents looking for a healthy start to the new year have several guided hiking and walking options at parks across San Mateo County on Jan. 1.
California State Parks is offering 50 guided walks at locations across the state as part of the fifth annual First Day Hike, a nationwide initiative inviting people outdoors in an effort to inspire them to continue visiting parks throughout the year.
“I think it’s good to use it as a day of recreation,” said State Park Ranger Nelle Lyons, who remarked on the benefits of exploring the outdoors New Year’s Day. “If you think about recreation, it has ‘recreate’ in it. It’s a way of refreshing yourself for the new year. It gets you thinking about getting out in your parks for the rest of the year.”
And California hikers are taking the bait. So far, State Parks have received nothing but positive feedback for their First Day Hikes.
“Everything we’ve received has been positive, asking for more,” said State Parks spokesman Greg Imura.
Across California, 1,993 hikers participated in First Day Hikes in 2016, up more than 600 hikers from the year before. On Sunday, 50 state parks are offering First Day Hikes, up from the 43 parks that participated in 2016, Imura said.
San Mateo County is home to three coastside state parks offering First Day Hikes on Jan. 1. Año Nuevo State Park and Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve are welcoming visitors to the southern San Mateo County coastline.
State Parks’ Burleigh Murray Ranch lies about 3 miles inland from Half Moon Bay and will also host a New Year’s Day hike. Lyons, who works on interpretive programs offered at state parks along San Mateo County’s coast, said hikers at Burleigh Murray Ranch and Pescadero’s marsh can expect an estimated two-hour guided walk with a docent explaining the birds and plants at each location.
Ranch visitors will hike Mills Creek Trail, which winds through a dry, dusty chaparral landscape and past a historic dairy barn. At Pescadero’s preserve, visitors will learn about the importance of marshland and may even see deer appear, Lyons said.
At Año Nuevo, Jan. 1 hikes are business as usual. The park is busiest during winter months when thousands of elephant seals return to the coast to breed.
Mike Merritt, a state park interpreter at Año Nuevo, welcomes the First Day Hikes initiative but says it hasn’t had much of an impact on the number of people coming to Año Nuevo New Year’s Day. The park offers daily guided tours between Dec. 15 and March 31.
“It’s funny for us because we always have walks on Jan. 1,” he said.
Hikers hopeful to see elephant seals at Año Nuevo should buy tickets to the 3-mile guided walk in advance, Merritt advises. Tickets often sell out on days with good weather and though some walk-in tickets may be available day-of, they are often gone by mid-day, he said.
“If people do come, they should come early,” Merritt said.
The proximity of Año Nuevo to other nearby trails on the coast and in the redwood forests farther inland make it a promising destination for hikers whether or not they are able to secure tickets to see the elephant seals.
San Mateo County Parks Department has also been doing its part to invite residents outdoors in 2017.
“There is no better way to get a fresh start to the new year than to get fresh air,” said Sarah Birkeland, interim director of county parks. “In connecting with nature, you’re connecting with something larger than yourself. It’s a nice way to bring things in perspective.”
Birkeland said local volunteers at Edgewood Park and Natural Preserve, just west of Redwood City, have been leading efforts to arrange guided walks in county parks.
“A lot of people do seem to come out on New Year’s Day,” said Bill Korbholz, president of the Friends of Edgewood, a volunteer organization working to preserve the Emerald Lake Hills park.
In years past, the docent leading the New Year’s Day hike at Edgewood has polled the group to determine whether to lead a hike that is more focused on getting a rigorous workout, or one that is more interpretive and describes what hikers see along the trail. Korbholz said this year the docent leading the 4- to 5-mile hike will address the physical and mental benefits of spending time in nature.
“Being in nature has been proven scientifically ... to reduce feelings of depression,” he said.
For county Ranger Stephen Kraemer, Edgewood Park’s narrow, forested trails and open views of the entire Bay Area allow visitors to forget their proximity to urban areas. He noted the county’s natural diversity offers new experiences for hikers hoping to carry their New Year’s resolutions through the rest of the year.
“All of these parks are really diverse, and have independent personality,” he said. “We’re very fortunate in San Mateo County, we have such an array of parks.”
Guided elephant seal tours at Año Nuevo State Park run 8:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. New Year’s Day. The First Day Hikes at Burleigh Murray Ranch and Pescadero marsh both begin 10 a.m. Visit www.parks.ca.gov for more information. The Edgewood New Year’s Walk begins 10 a.m. Visitors should meet at the park’s Bill and Jean Lane Education Center. Visit parks.smcgov.org/edgewood-new-years-walk for more information.
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