Many Iowans make grand plans for New Year’s Eve, but the Iowa Department of Natural Resources is urging those who love the outdoors to commit to an event on New Year’s Day.

Sherry Arntzen, chief of the Iowa DNR’s Parks, Forests and Preserves Bureau, says this will be the 10th year for the state’s First Day Hike Challenge. “First Day Hikes are a great way to get out and start the new year out in nature,” Arntzen says. “Our parks are open all year, I don’t know how many people take advantage of that. It’s just a great way to get out there and not only to enjoy the sights and the sounds that you can see in the wintertime, but creating those memories with your family and friends.”

While the immediate forecast is for very cold weather to move in, the picture could be much different by the time January 1st arrives. Arntzen says the events will go on, no matter what the forecast.  “It varies, obviously,” Arntzen says. “The winter may play into people’s decisions but we’ve had people who have braved some of the coldest weather that we’ve had, and we’ve had years where it’s been mild and just absolutely an enjoyable way to spend the morning or an afternoon.”

When the First Day Hike Challenge started, hikers were led on guided hikes through the parks by park rangers and caretakers. During COVID, hikers were instead encouraged to check in using their Park Passports. “For this year, we’re offering both,” Arntzen says. “Your hikes that you can do on your own at your own leisure and check in and be eligible to win a two-night stay at Pine Lake State Park cabins, or we do have 17 of our parks that are continuing to offer a designated time with a guided hike.”

More than 50 state parks and forests are doing the Park Passport check-ins this time, from December 30th through January 1st. In addition to the guided hikes, several parks will host get-togethers, providing hot chocolate and snacks.

Radio Iowa