COLUMBIA — Whether they wanted to walk a dog, learn about local history or to simply get outside, about 80 people decided to bundle up Wednesday and explore the trails at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park.
They joined the nationwide First Day Hikes program where citizens in all 50 states are encouraged to explore state parks on New Year's Day.
Hikes in Rock Bridge Memorial State Park have been scheduled on Jan. 1 for at least the past 10 years, but this year was only the second as part of the national movement of first-day hikes across the country.
"It's better than sitting around and watching TV all day," park volunteer Bill Pohlman said.
Fellow hiker Diane Privitt added, "I usually take my dog for a walk, so I thought I would go somewhere different."
The hikes were guided by Rock Bridge Park Naturalist Roxie Campbell and retired Park Superintendent Steve Schulte, who narrated the trek with stories about the trails.
John Klaas, his wife and their four children were on the hike for the second year in a row. The guided hikes are more informative than venturing out alone, Klaas said, in addition to the outdoor exercise.
Schulte led a group on the Grassland Trail, where the land had been hog farms until the late 1970s. The two-mile trail, just off U.S. 163, meanders through tall prairie grass and curves through a small wooded area at the end.
Hikers Amelia and Brian Cottle live right behind the park. Amelia Cottle said she was amazed to see to see old hog farms turned into beautiful grassland.
The two said they have done the first day hike for the past three years.
"I love seeing people come out and learn how it all happened," she said.
Schulte, the park superintendent from 1978 to 2004, said he has been guiding hikes since they started.
"It's too easy to sit at home and vegetate," he said, "so this is a good way to get out and still have time to do things later."