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New Year’s Day: What Better Time to Take a Hike?

Baltimore — Debbie Lamperti and Lorna Patrick of New Market, Md., decided to observe the new year from one of their favorite places — a hiking trail.

They were in good company. Thousands were expected to join in on “First Day Hikes” across the country on New Year’s Day, the third year that state park services nationwide held the event.

“Of all the things I’d like to do on New Year’s Day, hiking is definitely top of my list,” said Patrick, 48, as she prepared to set off in Patapsco Valley State Park in Ellicott City with her partner and brother.

The Maryland Park Service, inviting residents to do something invigorating to kick off 2014, held 24 guided hikes throughout the day at sites from Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore. The goal is to draw more people to state parks - and hopefully not just on Jan. 1.

“We want people to continue that tradition throughout the year,” said Nita Settina, superintendent of the park service. “Make it a resolution that you’re going to spend more time together in your state parks.”

It was too early to know the turnout, but 22,000 showed up for First Day Hikes nationwide last year, including nearly 600 in Maryland.

The excursions included a dog hike at Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis and a trek along the beach at Assateague State Park near Ocean City. Though Jan. 1 hikes were first held as a nationwide event in 2012, they’ve been happening at Assateague since 1970.

Settina was part of a big group hiking the Daniels area of Patapsco Valley State Park on Jan. 1. About 75 turned out, from little kids to senior citizens and at least one dog. That was nearly double the number who hiked in the area last New Year’s Day, though it couldn’t top the inaugural year’s crowd of about 120 — drawn by balmy 60-degree weather.

The temperature was in the 40s on New Year’s Day as families and individuals set off at a pace as brisk as the air.

Volunteer ranger Max Buffington augmented the hike with local history — how Daniels was a company town once, with houses, churches, a store and a school around the textile mill that employed the families there.

The mill was built after the railroad went through in the late 1820s. But the town started to disappear in the late 1960s as the company tore down the houses, and Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972 destroyed much of what remained.

“What we’re seeing now are the remnants of that mill,” Buffington said, standing near a fenced-off business - surrounded by the park - that rose where the mill once stood.

Brendan Luck, 8, who came from Eldersburg with his parents and older brother, wasn’t wild about the history part of the hike because everyone stood still to listen. He’s not much on standing still. But after that, the group walked carefully over wooden boards to cross a small stream and hit the tree-lined trail — just his speed.

He leapt about, climbed atop a fallen tree and declared the hike fun.

“I really like trees and hills because I get on them and jump off,” he said.

Gregory Miller, president of the Silver Spring-based American Hiking Society, came with his wife and three children. He was happy to see the turnout — especially all the children — on a day when the couch, the mall and any number of other indoor diversions beckoned.

“I thought it was a terrific day,” he said.

Lori and Earl Breyette drove down from Pennsylvania with 10-year-old grandson J.R. Sanders to hike at Patapsco Valley State Park. With walking sticks in hand, they looked like the seasoned hikers they are; wherever they go, they get out in nature.

But they especially liked the idea of this hike, with its first-day significance.

“A fresh, nice start to the new year,” Lori Breyette said.