By Andrea Agardy, Staff Writer
Tennessee State Parks will mark a major milestone in the new year, when the parks system celebrates its 75th anniversary. The public is invited to join in the celebration this week when each of the 54 state parks hosts First Hikes events between Dec. 31 and Jan. 2.
The First Hikes program is the Tennessee State Parks’ spin on “first footing,” an old Scottish tradition. According to legend, the family will have good luck in the new year if the first person across the threshold on Jan. 1 is dark-haired and carrying gifts of bread, money and a lump of coal. The bread and money are tokens meant to ensure the family will not go without in the new year, and the coal represents warmth and work.
The program is part of the nationwide initiative intended to provide the public with an opportunity to begin the new year in a healthy and rejuvenating way.
Locally, three state parks will welcome visitors on New Year’s Day to get 2013 off on the right foot.
At Tims Ford State Park in Winchester, park ranger Kenny Gragg will greet hikers at the visitor center at 9 a.m. The group will embark on a 1.3-mile hike along the Lost Creek Overlook Trail. Participants will learn about the history of Tims Ford State Park while observing the area’s plant and wildlife. Hikers are reminded to dress for the weather, and hiking boots are recommended. For more information on the Tims Ford hike, call 931-962-1183.
Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park in Manchester will also welcome guests on New Year’s Day. The group will meet ranger Jamie Hambrock at the park museum at 10 a.m. before embarking on a moderate 1 ¼-mile hike around the park grounds that are home of the Old Stone Fort constructed an estimated 2,000 years ago by Native Americans. The hike will be followed by coffee and hot chocolate in the museum. Hikers are advised to dress warmly, wear sturdy hiking shoes and bring along water. For more information on the First Hike at Old Stone Fort, call 931-723-5073.
Park ranger George Shinn will meet visitors at the Stone Door Ranger Station at 9 a.m. on Jan. 1 for a moderate 4-mile hike to Savage Falls. Along the way, the group will see several suspension bridges, a variety of wildlife and, of course, the waterfall. The event will wrap up with hot chocolate at the ranger station. For more information, contact Shinn at 931-779-3553.
This week’s First Hikes are the beginning of a year’s worth of events planned in commemoration of the diamond anniversary of Tennessee State Parks. The park system was established through legislation in 1937 in cooperation with federal programs which helped establish individual parks. As time went on, Tennessee’s state parks benefited from Depression-era recovery programs as well as the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration. Today, there is a state park within an hour’s drive of virtually any location in the Volunteer State, and the state maintains 54 state parks along with 82 natural areas.
State officials are encouraging the public to kick off the new year by spending a little time in one of Tennessee’s most beautiful natural resources.
“We are very excited to continue the celebration of Tennessee State Parks’ 75th anniversary in 2013, beginning with this series of First Hikes,” said Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau. “These First Hikes offer a great way to get outside, exercise, enjoy nature and welcome the new year with friends and family.”
More information on the First Hikes, and a complete list of locations, dates and times is available at http://www.tn.gov/environment/parks/firsthikes/. To learn more about events planned for the 75th anniversary celebration of Tennessee State Parks, log on to www.tnstatepark.com.
Andrea Agardy can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com