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First Day Hikes: Participation, Impacts, and Implications for the Future

Sarah R. Wilcer, Lincoln R. Larson, Jeffrey C. Hallo, Elizabeth Baldwin


First Day Hikes, which occur on New Year’s Day, are part of a nationwide initiative led by America’s State Parks to get more people outdoors. The concept became a national movement in 2012 when all 50 state park systems held at least one First Day Hike for the first time. In 2017, over 60,000 hikers across the United States attended one of nearly 1,300 First Day Hikes offered. Despite the popularity of the First Day Hike initiative, little is known about the First Day Hikers themselves or the broader impacts of this experience. Synthesizing data from three popular First Day Hike states (GA, MA, SC), our study used pre and post-hike feedback from participants to highlight positive and negative aspects of the hikes, assess broader program impacts, and identify potential opportunities for improvement in future years. Results illustrate a variety of factors driving the overall success of the First Day Hikes initiative and suggest that this and similar park-based programs have the potential to affect outdoor recreation participation, foster connections between people and nature, and inspire future stewardship behavior. Recommendations for managers derived from evaluation data and participant feedback include a more targeted emphasis on marketing toward and recruiting specific subgroups (such as first-time hikers, families with children, and racial/ethnic minorities), improving crowd control to enhance visitor experiences, and working to foster stronger enduring connections between First Day Hike participants and the parks they are visiting.

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Conservation; Hiking; Outdoor Recreation; State Parks

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