Six W.Va. state parks hosting Jan. 1 hikes

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Hemlock roots at Blackwater Falls State Park
Snowy boulders outcrop beneath hemlock at Blackwater Falls State Park. Photo courtesy Rick Burgess.

Six state parks in West Virginia are participating in the national First Day hiking initiative on January 1, welcoming hikers to join in what promises to be a chilly, though sunny, affair.

Rangers at Pipestem, Beech Fork, Watoga, Tygart Lake, and Blackwater Falls state parks and at Kanawha State Forest are scheduled to lead woodland hikes despite temperatures forecast to hover in the teens.

According to W.Va. State Parks calendar of events, the following state park hikes have been scheduled:

At Pipestem Resort State Park, participants should meet ranger Kim Hawkins at the McKeever Lodge lobby at 1 p.m. for a 1.5-to-two-hour excursion in the highlands above the Bluestone River.

At Blackwater Falls State Park, participants should meet naturalist Paulita Cousins at 10 a.m. at the Sled Run parking area. The three-mile trek will visit Lindy Point, one of West Virginia’s most spectacular views.

At Tygart Lake State Park, participants should meet Jacob Jackson at the Nature Center at 1 p.m. First Day Hikers are extended a 10 percent gift shop discount and hot cocoa upon completing the hike.

At Watoga State Park, participants should meet naturalist Chris Bartley at the Ann Bailey Watchtower Trail Head at 9 a.m. for a will lead this brisk, wintry walk to the Ann Bailey Watchtower and back. Hikers will take a break at the tower before returning, so participants should pack a lunch.

At Beech Fork State Park, participants will meet at the Overlook Trail at 1 p.m.

At Kanawha State Forest, hikers will gather at 2 p.m. at the nature center parking lot.

(Other First Day hikes may be scheduled elsewhere in West Virginia, including a hike on the Grey Flats Trail System at Beckley.)


Cold Weather Hiking

The American Hiking Society, a proponent of the national First Day Hikes initiative, offers the following advice for cold-weather hiking:

Dress in layers. While it is perhaps nice to have a huge, fluffy parka on the ski slopes, it really isn’t practical for the trail. Instead, take several layers you can peel off or put on when you stop and go on the trail. Your base layer should be a wicking fabric that will pull your sweat away from the skin. Overheating is a dangerous threat since excessive moisture that isn’t allowed to escape can freeze and cause hypothermia. If you ever wondered why some of your jackets have zippers under the armpits, it’s to keep air circulating and prevent your clothes from getting wet.

Wear a hat! Our heads are filled with oxygen-carrying capillaries which fuel our brains and consume one third of the body’s energy. During the colder months it is important to keep your head covered to maintain function and not lose precious body heat. You may want to bring a warmer/heavier hat for rest periods.

Keep your water bottle warm. Whether you are at the campsite or on the trail, a foam sleeve like a koozie will help prevent the water from freezing in a bottle. Nothing warms your body or your spirits like warm liquid by a campfire. Boil water to take with you as you hike. Also, to keep water from freezing, keep your water bottle on the inside of your jacket – properly sealed, of course.

Use a sleeping-bag liner. You don’t have to bulk up with a heavier sleeping bag for winter camping. Putting a liner inside a 20 degree bag is an inexpensive way to boost your bag’s rating another 10 or so degrees.

Don’t toss the sunscreen. While this is most important if you are hiking in a snowy region, winter hikers often forget about the sun’s glare reflecting off of white snow.

Be prepared for shorter days. As early as October, dusk settles earlier and more quickly than in the summer. Have a good idea of the usable daylight hours before going hiking. Always carry a headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries.

In addition to these tips and hints, remember to follow normal safety practices as well when hiking in the winter. Be sure of the gear you take with you and if you have any specific questions, ask a local outdoor expert so you can stay safe.