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History of America’s State Parks First Day Hikes

First Day Hikes originated in Massachusetts in 1992 and is sponsored each year by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). Since 2012, First Day Hikes have been held in all 50 states and marketed as America’s State Parks First Day Hikes. January 2018 marks the year that First Day Hikes will become an international movement with Ontario Parks in Canada offering First Day Hikes.

The concept of First Day Hikes was the creative idea of Patrick Flynn, the former supervisor for the Blue Hills Reservation, a state park in Milton, Massachusetts just outside of Boston. As supervisor of the Blue Hills Reservation, Pat Flynn, developed First Day Hikes in 1992 as a way to get people into the parks during the winter. He remembered February hikes offered at Ohio state parks in the 1970s when he was a seasonal interpreter and thought guided hikes and hot soup would encourage people to come out. He was right! On January 1, 1992, 380 people showed up for the inaugural First Day Hikes at the Blue Hills State Reservation. Pat proudly led the first hikes at Blue Hills on January 1, 1992 which you can see in the vintage photos attached. Massachusetts’ Breakheart State Reservation in Saugus, Massachusetts was also an early adopter of First Day Hikes.

In 2008, DCR began offering First Day Hikes in other state parks across Massachusetts and the response was great. DCR staff have continued to enhance this program over the years which has become an annual tradition for family and friends.

In the spring of 2011, Priscilla Geigis, Director of State Parks and Recreation for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, posed to the other State Park Directors in the Northeast States the idea of holding First Day Hikes in other states. They loved the idea, committed to offer them and challenged state parks directors in all 50 states to offer First Day Hikes. On January 1, 2012, 400 hikes were held across the nation as America’s State Parks First Day Hikes.

In 2016, state park directors asked the National Park Service to join first day hikes in partnership to honor their centennial celebration.

Since 1992 in Massachusetts, and since 2012 in the nation, January 1st has become synonymous with our state parks and helps us promote our beautiful public lands, year-round recreation, and foster healthy lifestyles. And the movement started in Massachusetts, a state known for starting revolutions!

While Pat Flynn entered private practice in 2008, after serving 20 years with the Department of Conservation and Recreation (and its predecessor agencies), he still returned each January 1 to hike in the Blue Hills (and throughout the year too!). In January 2016, Pat was presented with the President's Award from the National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD) for developing First Day Hikes in Massachusetts, which 20 years later became the inspiration for NASPD’s signature program called America’s State Parks First Day Hikes. Sadly, Pat passed away in spring 2016 and will always be remembered on January 1. We are grateful to him and his 1992 staff at the Blue Hills for introducing First Day Hikes in Massachusetts and to the state park teams in all 50 states who embraced the idea and started the America’s State Parks First Day Hikes movement in 2012.