LAKE BROWNWOOD STATE PARK — There is always something a little different, something a little new to see each time you go on Lake Brownwood State Park’s First Day Hike on New Year’s Day.
If you’re a veteran of the five-year-old event, you’ll probably recognize other return hikers who have chosen to follow a ranger on the 3-mile Nopales Ridge Trail or the shorter Texas Oak Trail, which is slightly under a mile in length.
Sunday’s hike likely saw the most pleasant weather since the First Day Hike began in 2012 — an afternoon of winter sunshine and the temperature in the high 60s.
A total of 87 participated in the hike — 58 on the Nopales Ridge Trail, led by ranger Sonny Bates, and 29 on the Texas Oak Trail, with park Superintendent John Holland in the lead.
“I love this job — one of the best jobs I’ve ever had,” Bates said as he introduced himself to hikers near the Nopales Ridge trailhead. “It’s a walk in the park if you love what you’re doing.”
Bates stopped a few times to talk to hikers about the winding, uphill-and-downhill trail, and answer questions. Hikers might see animals including snakes, quail, foxes, hawks, owls, turkeys, deer and armadillos, Bates said.
The trail wound through rocks and vegetation including mesquite and oak trees and prickly pear cactus.
Holland said earlier the purpose of the First Day Hike is to get people out to the state park on the first day of the year and start the year off with a New Year's resolution to get out more, hike more and spend more time outdoors. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said the First Day Hike program has been and ideal way for people to begin a more active lifestyle — and Texas state parks are a perfect place to achieve that goal and enjoy nature simultaneously.
Texas Parks and Wildlife officials introduced the First Day Hike in 2012 in an effort to increase visits to the state parks. Many of the parks were coming off a tough 2011 as low lake levels and wildfires caused attendance to fall throughout the state parks system.
There are advantages to winter visits to the park, Holland said earlier.
"There are several nice things about the winter, besides the fact that you don't sweat to death trying to walk on the trails like you would in August, when it's 110 degrees," Holland said.
The absence of leaves on the trees gives much better views of the lake, and it's a good time to see winter birds including an occasional bald eagle, Holland said.