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Hikers Embrace New Year: First Day Vermont State Parks’ Event Is Annual Tradition

  • Scott Davison points out fox tracks in the snow during a First Day Hike into the Quechee Gorge yesterday in Quechee.  “I go out for a 10 minute walk and come back two hours later because I get so distracted by all the tracks,” Davison said. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Scott Davison points out fox tracks in the snow during a First Day Hike into the Quechee Gorge yesterday in Quechee. “I go out for a 10 minute walk and come back two hours later because I get so distracted by all the tracks,” Davison said. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Scott Davison, a naturalist, writer and National Park Ranger, introduces himself before starting a First Day Hike into the Quechee Gorge yesterday in Quechee. “It’s an effort to get people outside,” Davison said. “I like to think it’s a way to get rid of nature deficit disorder.” (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Scott Davison, a naturalist, writer and National Park Ranger, introduces himself before starting a First Day Hike into the Quechee Gorge yesterday in Quechee. “It’s an effort to get people outside,” Davison said. “I like to think it’s a way to get rid of nature deficit disorder.” (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Scott Davison shows off spores from an Ostrich Fern to hikers during a First Day Hike into the Quechee Gorge. "I'd like to take some skiers on a walk - teach them to slow down," Davison said. "They're just going so fast, they don't stop and look around. They don't understand the nature of nature." (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Scott Davison shows off spores from an Ostrich Fern to hikers during a First Day Hike into the Quechee Gorge. "I'd like to take some skiers on a walk - teach them to slow down," Davison said. "They're just going so fast, they don't stop and look around. They don't understand the nature of nature." (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Scott Davison points out fox tracks in the snow during a First Day Hike into the Quechee Gorge yesterday in Quechee.  “I go out for a 10 minute walk and come back two hours later because I get so distracted by all the tracks,” Davison said. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)
  • Scott Davison, a naturalist, writer and National Park Ranger, introduces himself before starting a First Day Hike into the Quechee Gorge yesterday in Quechee. “It’s an effort to get people outside,” Davison said. “I like to think it’s a way to get rid of nature deficit disorder.” (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)
  • Scott Davison shows off spores from an Ostrich Fern to hikers during a First Day Hike into the Quechee Gorge. "I'd like to take some skiers on a walk - teach them to slow down," Davison said. "They're just going so fast, they don't stop and look around. They don't understand the nature of nature." (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

Quechee — The first few minutes of the First Day Hike had a sound track of snow crushed underfoot, by the rubbing fabric of winter coats, of idle conversations about Vermont state parks.

But 15 hikers were soon corralled by their guide, a seasonal park ranger with a thick white beard and a knit green beret. He stood on the side of a narrow path, addressing the group.

“I want everyone to close your eyes as tight as you can and just listen,” Scott Davison said, and fell quiet.

Wind swished through the trees, rustling the tallest branches. Traffic rushed down Route 4 in the distance.

Davison asked if the group had heard their own heartbeats. They hadn’t. He asked if they heard their breathing. They hadn’t.

“Think about the last time you heard yourself,” he said, and continued onward, his snowshoes kicking up a spray of powder.

The hike, at Quechee State Park, was one of 10 held statewide yesterday, all of which are part of the Vermont State Parks-sponsored First Day Hike. The New Year’s Day program, now in its second year, is meant to promote exercise and a positive start to the new year.

“It’s very invigorating,” said Julia Purdy, of Rochester, Vt. “Shakes you out of your doldrums.”

Davison, a Woodstock resident prone to planning a 10-minute walk and staying outside for two hours, decided to volunteer. During the summer, Davison is the lead ranger at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Memorial Park in Woodstock, and during the winter does what he can. Right now, he said, he’s working at Simon Pearce.

He volunteered to lead the moderate, 90-minute hike this year, just as he did last year at Gifford Woods State Park in Killington, the first First Day Hike.

Several of the hikers yesterday were on that Killington trek. Nearly everyone who showed up brought their own snowshoes. Some brought ski poles. Most had cameras.

Gregory Cook, of Wilder, was on the Killington hike. He’s also hiked the 48 4,000-foot mountains in New Hampshire. Whether he’d be outside or not yesterday wasn’t even a question — the biggest decision he had to make was whether to complete the First Day Hike in Quechee or Holbrook State Park in Sheffield, Vt.

“It’s such a great way to start a new year,” Cook said. “I do give the state credit for inspiring people to get out.”

As they walked, Cook spoke with Tom Pitts, of Quechee, about the two hikers on Mount Lafeyette in Franconia, N.H., who were found Monday after being lost for a day.

Ahead of them, Davison examined tracks made by what he determined to be a fox, about 15 pounds, walking in a straight line to conserve energy until it found its next meal.

On the way back, he picked up an ostrich fern and showed the group its attached fiddleheads. He found another set of fox tracks. He lamented the speed at which people tend to enjoy the winter, so many of them only alpine skiing and snowmobiling, favoring an adrenaline rush over a measured absorption of nature.

“I’d like to takes some skiers on a walk,” he said, leading the hikers back toward Route 4. “Teach them to slow down.”

The sun came out in force as the hikers approached the trail’s endpoint, trading a forested area for front-row view of the Ottauquechee River, the current navigating small ice floes.

The group stopped at what looked like a one-time Tropical Storm Irene cleanup effort, with wood planks and tools steeped in snow. A red hard hat had been hung on a tree limb.

There, Davison decided to read haikus.

He handed out laminated cards, each with a short poem. He mentioned that haikus often deal with the environment.

He asked the hikers to read them out loud.

Most were lyrical. They dealt with snow and the various adjectives that accompany it (powdery, fluffy and so on).

And then Colleen Kube, of East Wallingford, Vt., looked down at her card.

“OK I admit./ Fooled again, but I really/ Didn’t want more snow,” Kube said, eliciting a chuckle from a group bundled up in down coats and winter hats, totally prepared for outdoor conditions.

She looked upward and drew her elbows to her sides, clenching her fists. “Bring it on!”

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.