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Neighbors Growing Together | Mar 22, 2018

Iowa state parks offering guided First Day Hikes on New Years Day

By James Q. Lynch, The Gazette | Dec 22, 2017

Fresh air, wildlife sightings, scenic views and free guided hikes of Iowa state parks are on tap Jan. 1 as part of America’s First Day initiative.

Oh, and hot chocolate and s’mores, too.

Guided hikes will be offered in 26 state parks on New Year’s Day, including several in Eastern Iowa, as part of America’s First Day Hikes initiative.

Hikers can expect to be surrounded by the quiet beauty of nature in winter and experience spectacular views, beautiful settings and the cultural treasures offered by Iowa’s state parks, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

At Pikes Peak State Park near McGregor in northeast Iowa, hikers will see a well-preserved effigy mound as they head up to an overlook offering views of the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers.

“It’s breathtaking at all times of years, but in winter it takes on a whole new look,” according to park manager Matt Tschirgi.

Hikers are likely to see animal tracks — if there is snow on the ground — and bald eagles.

“It’s a great visitor experience,” said Tschirgi, who led the milelong hike last year. Pets on leashes are welcome at Pikes Peak.

All 50 states will participate in the seventh annual national event that encourages people to celebrate the new year with a guided outdoor exploration.

Last year, more than 1,200 people began the year in an Iowa state park, hiking more than 1,100 total miles.

The 2017 hike at Cedar Rock State Park near Quasqueton, also in northeast Iowa, drew about 100 people — more than program planner Katie Hund had expected.

The Cedar Rock hike will take visitors on a trail along a restored prairie and backwaters before they get to the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home and boathouse.

While she can’t guarantee eagle sightings, “there were three fishing off the boathouse” on a recent morning, Hund said.

In Fayette County, Volga River Recreation Area technician Jason Dykstra is planning a 2.5-mile hike on gravel trails that will lead to a 60-foot overlook with a view of the river valley. Hikers also will pass through a remnant prairie and under a canopy of pines planted in the 1970s.

The area hosts a “diverse bird community,” Dykstra said, and hikers might see larger wildlife “by happenstance.”

In all cases, the tour guides advise dressing for the weather, wearing sturdy clothes and comfortable shoes.

At the end of the hikes, friends of the parks will be offering refreshments such as hot chocolate, hot cider and, at Cedar Rock, s’mores.

Participants are encouraged to share their adventures on social media with #FirstDayHikes or #iowastateparks.

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