Expect a rustling in the woods across the Chesapeake Bay region on Jan. 1. Along with shuffling in the sand and, depending on the weather, some sloshing in the snow. That’s because more than 10,000 people will likely be out for a First Day Hike at state parks in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia alone.

First Day Hikes are a nationwide program sponsored by America’s State Parks, an association of state park directors. “The new year is a great opportunity to invite people to our state parks, whether they want to get a new start for their lifestyle or an environmental understanding of the great outdoors,” said executive director Lewis Ledford.

The program was launched more than 20 years ago in Massachusetts. In 2016, people inspired by nature, curiosity and possibly their New Year’s resolutions, visited parks for First Day Hikes in all 50 states. Information collected by the parks indicates that, together, more than 55,000 people joined in 1,169 hikes and covered more than 133,000 miles.

The guided hikes usually range from 1–9 miles. Most are only 1–2 miles long over family-friendly terrain, starting midmorning or after lunch.

In the Bay region last year, 31 guided hikes were offered in both Maryland and Pennsylvania, 23 in Delaware, and 10 in West Virginia. Virginia offered 90 and had the greatest number of participants in the Bay watershed as well as the nation — 12,547 people racked up more than 15,000 miles.

Nancy Heltman, visitor services director for Virginia state parks, attributes those numbers to good weather, participation from all 37 state parks, and free entrance on Jan. 1. “I also think people just like the idea of starting the new year right,” Heltman said. “People bring their dogs and their families, and it’s pretty amazing.”

Every state in the nation will again offer First Day hikes in 2017. All Virginia state parks will offer guided hikes, with free admission, but you can also ramble around on your own— just check in with park staff so that your visit can be included in the nationwide count. Hiking need not be strenuous nor cover any set distance. Strolling, horseback riding and cycling are acceptable, too.

Virginia sponsors two contests for the hikes. The first contest is for participation. Winners are drawn from the entries of people who make an on-line pledge to take a First Day Hike and then complete it. The second is a popular photo contest. Participants can submit up to three photos from their hike, which must be uploaded to a designated website before midnight on Jan. 1.

The first place prize for both contests is a $500 gift certificate for overnight stays in Virginia state parks.

Find a First Day Hike near you