Do you have your 2014 calendar ready yet? I have something for you to put on it. No, that’s not a typo. Mark Jan. 1, 2014, for a First Day Hike at one of our state parks.
The Indiana State Parks system participated this year in a nationwide program called “First Day Hikes.” The idea was to get people into state parks on the very first day of the year, in hopes that they would visit their parks more often in the coming year. The program was started by Massachusetts over 20 years ago and was picked up and promoted by the National Association of State Park Directors, who created America’s State Park Alliance. Last year only one park in Indiana participated, Ft. Harrison in Indianapolis. This year 20 of Indiana’s state parks participated and there were 657 First Day hikes scheduled nationwide.
The First Day Hike at Pokagon was led by Dan Bortner, director of the Indiana State Parks System, who traveled from Southern Indiana just to lead this hike and to show his family Pokagon in winter. Participants met at the Lonidaw Lounge in the inn and walked for about an hour. We visited Lake Lonidaw and heard about how the lake was formed as a kettle lake (almost all the lakes in Northeastern Indiana are kettle lakes) by the retreat of the glaciers 12,000 to 14,000 years ago. The lake is surrounded by a fen, a type of wetland area. The lake level is constantly changing thanks to the work of the resident beavers who busily dam up the streams around it.
It was a beautiful day, sunny, and not too cold, about 26 degrees. There was some wind, but since most of the time we were in the trees the wind was not noticeable. The snow-covered ground was slightly tricky to navigate because there was some ice underneath the snow in a couple of places, but no one fell. The trail was quite packed down from use, which is a good thing. It shows that people do appreciate and use our parks system.
One of the initiatives that was completed in our parks this year was that every property now has a nature preserve included in it. A preserve is different from a park. The parks have inns, pools, stables, and other recreational facilities built on the land, but in a preserve the only thing man-made is the trail and everything is protected from future development. The area surrounding Lake Lonidaw is such a preserve. When you hike there, you should notice a sign that says “Wipe your feet!” and a brush to scrape your feet with. This may seem silly when you’re walking in the woods, but the point is to keep invasive species out of the natural area.
Seeds can be tracked in from wherever you may have walked before, and invasives can spread quickly and often choke out the native plants in the area, which then alters the habitat for the animals in the area as their food source changes or disappears. So scrape those shoes when you see the sign and the brush!
From Lake Lonidaw we meandered up to the toboggan run and enjoyed watching the tobogganers whiz by. There is a sign that says “Speed limit 42” and then lights up with the speed of the toboggan as it zooms past. The fastest we saw was 36 mph. Pretty fast, and think of the wind chill! Near the toboggan run is a fire ring and the state park employees had started a nice warm fire and had hot chocolate and the makings for s’mores, including a bag of freshly sharpened sticks for marshmallow roasting. Lots of kids were very happy to oblige!
The hike was quite a large group, maybe 80 people, so we didn’t see any wildlife to report, but it was great to see so many people out on the first day of the year enjoying nature. As Bortner repeated several times during the hike, “You own this place” – you being the people of Indiana.
So mark your calendars for next Jan. 1 and get out to visit one of your properties on a First Day Hike next year!