Tuesday morning might have seemed unsuitable for a hike, with temperatures hanging at about 30 degrees under a slate gray sky and the ground muddy and slippery after heavy rain Monday.
Those conditions, however, were no obstacles for about 20 hikers who attended the First Day Hike on the Karst Trail at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park on New Year’s Day.
Going hiking on a New Year’s Day has become a tradition for Ann Marie McGarry-Papick in recent years.
“It’s nice to be outdoors, and (the trip) is usually informative,” she said. “If you go with the park person, they know about the trees, the plants and the animals. It’s a nice way to get information.”
The leader of the hike was Eric Wood of the Columbia Audubon Society, an organization aimed at preserving the natural world and its ecosystems. Wood said 11 people had registered for the event, but ultimately around 20 people showed up, including three state park rangers.
Because the Columbia Audubon Society was working on organizing hikes with the park this year, some of its members came along. It wasn’t the first New Year’s hike for Laura Hillman, but it was her first time on the Karst Trail.
“This is the first time that I remember ever doing bird watching here in this area,” Hillman said. “We (the society) do a bird watch almost every week of the year, primarily in this area. Sometimes we go several hours away, at different locations. So, this is kind of a new one and new experience.”
Hillman said she was especially excited to join the hike since she was able to see faraway things better. She had cataract surgery just two weeks ago.
Although the hikers could hear Carolina wrens singing, and they managed to spot some sparrows, there weren’t many birds to see.
“They’re not singing like they are in spring. So you do have to keep looking and hope you find them. Just look for movement in the trees and stuff,” Hillman advised her fellow hikers.
McGarry-Papick said there was another explanation for the lack of birds. “Because we’re walking, they are probably staying away.”
McGarry-Papick said she’s able to see a variety of birds in her backyard, from the window in her house in a wooded area west of Columbia and near Rocheport. “But because I’m inside,” she emphasized.
Ashley Mendoza and her son, Maddox, however, weren’t discouraged. Mendoza said Maddox, who is 6, loves hiking, birds and nature. So when she was looking for something to do on New Year’s Day on Hula Frog, a website about things for families to do, the bird-watching hike caught her interest.
Mendoza said Maddox has a teacher who inspired his love of nature and animals.
“She’s taught him all about the different birds. He can spot different birds, and they have a bird feeder outside their classroom. So, they get to learn the different sounds of the birds and what different birds look like.”
While Mendoza thought that she should have worn more layers to stay warm, Gwen Gilpin said she didn’t believe the weather was a big deal.
“Actually, last year was much, much colder than this time,” she said. “It was about zero degrees last year.”
Gilpin, an office associate at MU Math Department, admitted she’s really not much of a bird watcher but wants to learn more about what birds inhabit the area and how to identify them.
More important, going hiking in a New Year’s Day is a “nice tradition” for Gilpin.
“I started it last year,” she said. “We need to get outside more, so this is a good reason to do it on New Year’s Day.”
First Day Hikes are annual events that began with the America’s State Parks First Day Hikes Initiative. Nearly 55,000 people joined in nationwide hikes last year, “collectively hiking over 133,000 miles throughout the country,” according to the initiative’s website.
First Day Hikes were held at 31 state parks in Missouri, according to the Missouri State Parks website. However, some trips were canceled because of localized flooding and slippery conditions.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.