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A "First Day" Hike Around Saint Mary's Lake, MD

Jill is a former Master Gardener and Naturalist who enjoys cooking, abstract painting and stewardship.

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"First Day" Hikes

"First Day" Hikes are New Year's Day hikes sponsored by U.S. state parks.

They take place January 1 on state park hiking trails throughout the country, and are a healthy way to begin the New Year.

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.

— John Muir, Naturalist

Adults and children may participate. Just show up at the designated place and time at a participating state park in your area, appropriately dressed and shod for the weather.

It's also a good idea to take along water and, if you like to bird watch or take photos, binoculars and a camera as well.

Dogs are also welcome, so long as they're leashed.

A group of hikers in St. Mary's County, MD, take  "First Day" Hike at St. Mary's River State Park on New Year's Day 2017.

A group of hikers in St. Mary's County, MD, take "First Day" Hike at St. Mary's River State Park on New Year's Day 2017.

On January 1, 2017, my husband and I joined the "First Day" Hike at St. Mary's River State Park in our home state of Maryland. It was our first time, and it was a rewarding way to start the New Year.

I'd read about the hike in the Maryland Department of Natural Resources e-newsletter. Information about First Day Hikes is also available at state DNR websites.

We were surprised by the number of hikers, many of whom had participated the previous year. They ranged from senior citizens to teens, from singletons to entire families.

Even a dog, Loki, an energetic five-year-old black Lab, went on the hike.

A view of St. Mary's Lake from the trail.

A view of St. Mary's Lake from the trail.

Led by a local ranger, the hike began at 10 am from the park's parking lot.

The plan? To walk 1.5 miles along the hiking trail that circles St. Mary's Lake then back again—with the option of hiking the complete 7+ mile trail for those who felt up to it.

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The ranger set a good pace for our group, and I found myself watching my feet to avoid tripping on the rooty path more than taking in the scenery.

About a half-mile in we took a break at a wooden bridge over a creek, and he gave a brief talk on a program for veterans and college students that the Department of Natural Resources sponsors. A few minutes later, we were off again.

Hikers step over tree roots on the trail.

Hikers step over tree roots on the trail.

First Day Hikes are led by Department of Natural Resources rangers.

First Day Hikes are led by Department of Natural Resources rangers.

Falling Behind

Our stop gave me a chance to look around and, distracted by the beauty of the winter forest, I fell behind as I stopped to take photographs.

My husband lagged behind with me.

We saw a surprising amount of greenery, including American holly, some with red berries, and clumps of fern that, sheltered by the heavy tree canopy, had escaped the frost.

Most interesting to me, though, were the pin oak leaves which glowed like rubies on the drab forest floor— such colorful surprises.

I was also taken with all the numerous fallen trees and the bracket fungi which, upon close inspection, contained an astonishing array of delicate colors.

Blue turkey-tail fungi on a tree stump.

Blue turkey-tail fungi on a tree stump.

'It's a dangerous business . . . going out your door . . . there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.'

— Gandalf in Tolkien's The Hobbit

A fallen pine tree.

A fallen pine tree.

Frilly fungi.

Frilly fungi.

Exploring the Woods

The woods around St. Mary's Lake are mostly composed of pine trees and oak trees, as well as a small number of ghostly beech trees with pale gray trunks and papery leaves.

Understory plants include lowbush blueberry shrubs and greenbrier.

Beech tree leaves.

Beech tree leaves.

The quantity of pine needles everywhere was amazing.

They were underfoot as well as overhead, doing splits on oak branches and hanging on holly trees like Christmas ornaments.

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End of the Line

Eventually, we caught back up with the group, but the trail had narrowed, and we were at the end of the line.

If you ain't the lead dog, the scenery never changes.

— Lewis Grizzard, American humorist

My husband and I find ourselves at the end of the trail of hikers.

My husband and I find ourselves at the end of the trail of hikers.

We decide to fall behind.

We decide to fall behind.

Enjoying the Hike

We slogged on for perhaps a quarter mile then, bored by the view, agreed to fall back again and enjoy the trail at our leisure.

I took photographs until my camera battery died, then we hiked back to the trailhead.

Eventually, we have the woods (almost) to ourselves.

Eventually, we have the woods (almost) to ourselves.

By the time we returned to the parking lot, we'd hiked a little over three miles, and completed our First Day Hike.

It was a good way—a healthy, peaceful way—to begin the New Year, and we plan to make it a tradition.

What About You?

© 2017 Jill Spencer

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