BASS RIVER STATE FOREST — Chuck and Linda Luther of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, drove to the Pinelands on Monday morning in bitter cold to hike for several hours through its famous pygmy pine forest.
“It’s exciting to be out in the cold,” said Chuck Luther. “It’s our goal this year to do more hiking.”
And in the evening on New Year’s Day they planned to take a moonlight hike back home in Pennsylvania.
They were part of a group of 14 of the area’s hardiest folks, who set out on an organized seven-mile hike early New Year’s Day morning, despite temperatures in the low teens and a steady wind.
Part of America’s State Parks First Day Hikes program, the walk stretched from Route 72 near the Barnegat Township border into Woodland Township, Burlington County.
It was led by a volunteer from the state Division of Parks and Forestry.
Walks were also held in Belleplain State Forest in Woodbine, Wharton State Forest out of Atsion and Batsto, at Barnegat Light State Park on Long Beach Island, and in other state parks and forests around the state.
A few of the walks and a First Day horseback ride at Kittatinny Valley State Park were canceled, but most First Day events went ahead as planned.
In contrast, most New Year’s Day ocean plunges were canceled due to the severe cold, as was a 5k run on the Ocean City Boardwalk.
Participants in the Bass River forest hike were ages 20s to retirement age. At least two lost a lot of weight in 2017 and wanted to keep up a strong exercise regime.
“I lost over 40 pounds in one year,” said Delia Dungan, of Lumberton in Burlington County. She said she was a big hiker earlier in her life, and wants to get back into it now. Walking has been a big weight loss tool for her, she said.
Phyllis Zindalis, of Hamilton Square in Mercer County, was there with her husband, Joe, and her daughter and son-in-law. She said she lost 53 pounds in 2017, using Weight Watchers and doing lots of walking.
“The cold is a pain, but it’s something to do today,” she said. “We used to live in Troy, New York, so we got a little used to the cold.”
As the group set out on their hours-long odyssey, the leader, who declined to give his name, said they must be prepared to be outside for three to four hours and there would be no bathroom facilities available.
First Day Hikes began more than 20 years ago at the Blue Hills Reservation, a state park in Milton, Massachusetts. The program was launched to promote healthy lifestyles and year-round recreation at state parks.
The State Park Service began participating in First Day Hikes after the program became a nationwide event in 2012.
The Division of Parks and Forestry manages about 450,000 acres of land, including 40 state parks and forests. The Division of Fish and Wildlife manages another 347,000 acres as Wildlife Management Areas.