That’s what Chain of Lakes State Park in Albion called their First Day hike. Two weeks ago I wrote about the First Day Hike at Pokagon, but because of the timing I was able to attend a second First Day hike on New Year’s Day. This one was at 5:30 p.m. so we could enjoy the sunset and the lights on the trail. The hike was led by the park naturalist, Leslie Arnold. It was a short easy ½ mile hike starting from the general store in the campground. There was free hot chocolate available for the participants before and after the hike. We walked along Trail 3 and then cut back into the campground. The trail was lit with luminaria which were quite creatively placed along our walk. Some were on the ground in paper bags as you would expect, but some were small votive candles surrounded by snow on a fence post, and in the campground the bags were attached to the posts with clamps where normally campers would post their campsite registration papers.
After the Pokagon hike earlier in the day, I expected this to be a much smaller draw since there’s no inn, it was around supper time, and the park is more remote from major centers of population than is Pokagon. But I counted 60 people (and two well-behaved dogs on leashes) in attendance. Very nice to see people out and about on a winter’s day/evening in the park.
Along the way, Leslie stopped to answer questions and tell us about the park. Again, with so many people we didn’t see any wildlife, but we saw lots of wildlife tracks. Leslie told us that there have been sightings of otter, barred owls, fox, and red-shouldered hawks in the park recently. Ice fishermen have started to venture out on the ice on a couple of the smaller lakes in the chain. The park used to offer cross-country ski rentals, but no longer does. However, if you have your own skis, you are welcome to ski in the park. Trail 9 was the old ski trail, so it’s a good place to start.
This summer and fall the park lost 18 deer to epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD). It’s a disease that is more common during drought conditions, which we certainly experienced last summer. Unfortunately for hunters, the large bucks seem to be more susceptible to it than the does. It is not contagious, but is carried by the bite of the midge fly. It does not affect humans. The good news is that the first frost usually ends the epidemic and it usually does not recur the following year. EHD was also confirmed in some deer in LaGrange County this fall. It is not always fatal to the deer who contact it. However, we saw lots of hoof prints in the snow, so you still have a good chance to see deer when you visit the park.
Several people requested a longer hike for next year, but since this was the first time the First Day hike was offered, they had no idea how many people might show up and how long those who came would be willing to stay out in the cold. It was so pleasant that many of us walked the trail a second time just to enjoy the luminaria as the darkness deepened. During the first go-round there was still a lot of light in the sky, although the sun had set and it was cloudy, but on the second round the luminaria really stood out in the night. And just as I finished the second round, a V of about 45 Canadian geese flew over, calling out in the evening twilight.