Mother Neff

Entrance to the new section of Mother Neff State Park.

Staff photo— Jerry Larson, file

Mother Neff State Park is hosting its sixth annual First Day Hike to kick off the new year, inviting new and returning visitors to embark on a guided walk.

Mother Neff State Park’s hikes on Jan. 1 each year hold their own with hikes at the bigger parks in Texas. On Jan. 1, 2016, 208 hikers — the second-highest amount in the state — took to the trails through the limestone gullies to Tonkawa Cave and back to Rock Tower to view the wildlife at the Wash Pond, said Jeremy Gann, State Park Police and park interpreter.

More than 3,000 hikers across the state covered 6,500 miles on Jan. 1, he said.

“It’s just a good way to start the new year off right,” Gann said. “Everyone has resolutions they want to try for the new year. For us there’s no better way to start the new year than being outside.”

Four Ranger guided hikes are planned for Jan. 1.

At 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. guests can partake in either a 1.5- or three-mile hike. Guests are encouraged to arrive 30 minutes early to check in at the park headquarters, to wear comfortable shoes, bring a water bottle and dress weather appropriate.

Pets are welcomed as long as they are on a leash no longer than 6 feet. Due to the terrain of the trails, strollers are not recommended.

Gann said the three-mile hike will be held at a brisker pace, while the 1.5-mile hike will move slower.

Entrance to the park is $2 per person ages 13 and older. Those under age 13 get in for free.

Exercise and outdoor activity are two healthy, natural, and free ways to feel better, said Salley Schmid, owner of Enrichment Training and Counseling Solutions, P.C., in Waco.

Exercise improves quality of sleep and improved sleep helps individuals have a more elevated mood, said Schmid, who has a background in recreational therapy, as well as marriage and family therapy. Exercise also facilitates clarity of thinking, which allows a person to be more optimistic, she said.

Schmid said a simple 20-minute walk is better than nothing.

“Whether it’s exercise or good nutrition, you don’t have to get it perfect to reap the benefit,” she said. “If people will allow themselves some grace to ease into something and not hit the ground running with perfection on day one, it’s much easier to sustain the change and grow.”

First Day Hikes are part of a nationwide initiative by America’s State Parks, an alliance of state parks from all 50 states, to encourage people to get outdoors. To see a list of first day hikes across the county go to tpwd.texas.gov/calendar/first-day-hikes.

Gann said the biggest turnout at the 259-acre Mother Neff State Park hike was in 2014 when more than 500 people walked the trails. Bad weather in 2015 prompted many to stay home, though 24 hikers participated. Gann said many state parks didn’t get to hold their hike at all in 2015.

“We had some dedicated hikers that came out,” he said. “The nice thing about where our park is at . . . there’s a lot of big communities all around us. Especially here in Central Texas, there’s a lot of dedicated hikers and people that love being outside.”

The hike will take place rain or shine. Only the presence of lightning will cancel the event. Mother Neff is located at 1680 Texas 236 Highway in Moody.

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