New Year’s resolutions are easy to make, but often hard to keep. How about a resolution that will be both easy and fun to keep? Make a pledge to yourself to spend more time outdoors in the coming year, and kick it off with a First Day Hike.

State, national and local parks are joining the First Day Hike movement, offering a variety of options to lure folks outside on Jan. 1. If hiking isn’t your thing, try floating or riding horses or bicycling — whatever you like to do, just so it is outdoors.

At press time, the local forecast for New Year’s Day was for temperatures in the 40s with a slight chance of rain, so the weather shouldn’t provide an excuse for staying inside.

Here in Missouri, 32 state parks are offering guided hikes. All are free of charge. For a full list of first day hikes, go to mostateparks.com and click on the First Day Hikes icon. Then click on the park that interests you for details about time, meeting place, and whether reservations are suggested.

Some of the hikes nearby include Babler State Park in Wildwood, from 1 to 3 p.m.; Meramec State Park in Sullivan, from noon to 2:30 p.m.; Robertsville State Park in Robertsville, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; Onondaga Cave State Park in Leasburg, 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.; and Montauk State Park between Salem and Licking, 2 to 4 p.m.

The organized hike for Katy Trail State Park leaves from the McBaine trailhead, which is about 7 miles south of Columbia on Highway K. Because Augusta and Dutzow trailheads are much closer for Missourian readers, you could just plan your own hike or bike ride on your favorite section of the Katy Trail.

On New Year’s Day 2016, we joined the First Day Hike at Onondaga Cave State Park. It was a great way to begin the year. As readers will recall, this area suffered record-breaking flooding at this time last year. Parts of the park were closed and others showed flood damage, but the paths up the hills and through the woods were open and inviting.

A highlight of the hike for me was the sighting of dozens of frost flowers. Frost flowers are formed when thin layers of ice are extruded from long-stemmed plants. The ice layers often form exquisite shapes that resemble flowers.

Float or Hike?

A special First Day event is planned at Echo Bluff State Park, in conjunction with the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Current River State Park and the Ozark Trail Association. The Winter Paddling Clinic and First Day Float will be Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.

Although millions of floaters enjoy Missouri’s rivers from Memorial Day through Labor Day, not many paddle during the winter. This clinic and float will attempt to change that, by introducing paddlers to the proper equipment and precautions for winter paddling, and then putting them into practice on a guided float trip.

Winter paddling offers several advantages, including the opportunity to experience solitude on the river and the chance to view wildlife and landmarks that are hidden by heavy vegetation during the summer. The same holds true for hiking; visibility is greatly enhanced when there are no leaves on the trees.

The two-day event begins Saturday, Dec. 31, at the lodge at Echo Bluff State Park. Participants may have dinner at the lodge from 5 to 8:30 p.m. The winter paddling clinic is from 7 to 9 p.m. The New Year’s Eve Celebration is from 9:30 p.m. to midnight.

The paddling clinic sessions are free and open to the public, with no reservation needed. Participants who would like to make reservations for dinner or the New Year’s Eve celebration, may contact Guest Services at 844-322-3246.

Topics for the winter paddling clinic include winter paddling gear; essential kayaking paddle strokes and basic maneuvers; river and nature photography; opportunities for paddlers on the Upper Current River and Jacks Fork River; programming for paddlers at Echo Bluff and Current River state parks; and the development of the Round Spring section of the Ozark Trail and the paddling and hiking opportunities the new trail will offer to visitors.

On Sunday, Jan. 1, experienced paddlers can float any section of the Current or Jacks Fork rivers. Less experienced paddlers are encouraged to float the Current between Pulltite and Round Spring. An instructional float will be offered from Current River State Park to Round Spring, starting at 10:30 a.m. There is no charge for the guided float, but reservations are necessary. Call National Park Service Ranger Dave Tobey at 573-323-8093. Instructors for the guided float are certified by the American Canoe Association.

Those who choose not to float can join a guided hike at Echo Bluff at 1:30 p.m. At nearby Current River State Park, hikers and floaters are invited to warm up by a bonfire and enjoy a warm beverage.

Echo Bluff State Park is on Highway 19 about halfway between Salem and Eminence. Current River State Park is about 1 mile north of Echo Bluff State Park. The Ozark National Scenic Riverways is adjacent to both parks.  

Although all the rooms and cabins at Echo Bluff are booked for New Year’s Eve, there should be lodging vacancies in Eminence, about 14 miles south.

Tour Three New Parks

Earlier this month, Gov. Jay Nixon announced the addition of three new state parks, making a total of 91 parks. The new parks, all in southern Missouri, were chosen for their distinctive landscapes that fill natural history gaps in the park system.

Ozark Mountain State Park is in Taney County, northwest of Branson on Highway 465. Its 1,011 acres feature an open, grassy, flower-filled landscape of ridges and hills, known locally as knobs.

Bryant Creek State Park is in Douglas County, near the Ozark County line, about 22 miles southeast of Ava. Its 2,917 acres include thick oak and pine forests and almost 2 miles of hills and bluffs along Bryant Creek.

Eleven Point State Park is near Alton in Oregon County, about 45 miles east of West Plains. At 4,167 acres, this park includes 6 miles of river frontage on the Eleven Point River, a National Wild and Scenic River.

Although the parks aren’t ready to open for regular use, the public is invited to get an introductory peek by joining guided hikes in the parks in early January. Hikes will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Jan. 6 at Ozark Mountain State Park; from 1 to 4 p.m. Jan. 7 at Eleven Point State Park; and from noon to 2 p.m. Jan. 8 at Bryant Creek State Park. You can satisfy your curiosity about the new parks while fulfilling your resolution to spend more time outdoors.

For information on meeting points for the hikes, contact Missouri State Parks at 573-751-0761 or moparks@dnr.mo.gov.

State Passport to Fun

The Missouri State Parks system is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2017, and the Centennial Passport offers a fun way to get outside and explore our parks. The booklet contains photographs, activities and information for each of the 88 parks and historical sites, with a place for a stamp to mark each visit. Completed passports can be entered for a prize drawing.

The passport booklet is for sale at state park gift shops or online. A free digital version is available. For more information, visit mostateparks.com/passport.

Another way to celebrate the centennial and to continue your commitment to outdoor activity is to take a walk through Missouri State Parks history on the 1.4-mile Centennial Bluff Trail in Current River State Park. The trail tells the park system history through a series of interpretive panels.

Current River State Park, just across Highway 19 from Echo Bluff State Park, preserves the historical buildings of the Alton Box Company’s corporate retreat. Tours of the historic buildings are available.

While in the area, ask about the Shannondale Fire Tower. The 100-foot tower is open for visitors sporadically; look for the open sign on the west side of Highway 19 between the entrances to Current River and Echo Bluff parks. The bird’s-eye view of the Ozark countryside and the Current River is worth the climb.

National Park Passport, Too

The National Park Service (NPS) celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2016. As part of that celebration, the six major NPS sites in Missouri have joined together to offer a Passport Challenge, which runs through Dec. 31, 2017.

The Passport Challenge will take you to the George Washington Carver National Monument, Harry S. Truman National Historic Site, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (the Gateway Arch), Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, and Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield. Each site offers you the opportunity to continue your commitment to spend time in the outdoors in the coming year.

You can pick up your free passport at any of the six locations. Be sure to stamp your passport when you visit each site. After collecting three stamps, you can receive your first prize. After all six stamps, you can claim your second prize. You also can register to enter a grand prize drawing.

For details about the program, visit www.monationalparks.com.

Go Outside

What better way to begin the New Year than by burning off those holiday calories while connecting with nature? First Day Hikes or other outdoor activities help rejuvenate the mind and body. Studies have shown that spending time in nature enhances creativity and lifts our spirits.

Take advantage of the great outdoors that Missouri has to offer and let this year mark the beginning of a more healthful lifestyle for you and your family. Spending more time outside just might be a New Year’s resolution you will keep.