The Raccoon Creek State Park hiking club is offering a variety of outdoor activities along the park's 44 miles of trails beginning on New Year's Day.
As part of an initiative in all 50 states called America's State Parks First Day Hikes, hiking club founder Joe Kapopoulos will host a free First Hike of 4 to 5 miles over moderate terrain. Starting at 10 a.m., hikers will gather at the park office at 3000 State Park Road (Route 18) in Hanover, Beaver County.
This is the first time Raccoon Creek will participate in the event, said Pat Adams, environmental educator with the state park system. He hopes the event will inspire people to begin the new year by "getting started out on the right foot, by getting out and getting healthy."
During the 2012 hike, state parks across the nation hosted more than 14,000 hikers who logged more than 30,000 miles.
Raccoon Creek's First Day Hike will be held in addition to the hiking club's monthly event at 10 a.m. Jan. 13. Each month, hikers gather at the park office before heading out on trips designed for beginner to intermediate levels.
Hike dates are scheduled to work around other events being offered by the park. Winter 2013 programs include family ice fishing, a maple sugar workshop, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, an introduction to winter camping and even a bake-your-own-wheat-bread course.
"Raccoon is Pittsburgh's best-kept secret. You can't believe how many people don't know it exists," said Mr. Kapopoulos, of Ingram.
He said it takes him about 25 minutes to drive from his home in Ingram to the 7,500-acre park in Beaver County, which contains the 101-acre Raccoon Lake and offers swimming, fishing, hiking, camping, cross-country skiing, cabins and a lake-side lodge.
The hiking club was founded in March and has about 15 members who participate in each month's hikes. Turnout varies from 10 to as many as 45 hikers, depending on the weather, with participants varying in age from children to senior citizens.
Mr. Kapopoulos has yet to cancel a planned outing. The only reason he would cancel a hike would be because of thunder and lightning.
"Rain, snow? We go."
And if enough snow falls, the group switches tactics and goes snowshoeing along the cross-country ski path, using free snowshoes provided by the park.
"It's a beautiful park. I hope everyone gets to see it in all four seasons like I do," said Mr. Kapopoulos, who with some of his club members also serves as a conservation volunteer.
In addition to hosting the monthly hikes, he participates in trail repair and removal of invasive plant plants such as garlic mustard, Japanese knotweed and bush honeysuckle.
"I'm doing my best to preserve something for future generations," he said.
Mr. Kapopoulos suggests hikers come dressed appropriately for the weather and bring water and a light snack for after the hike.
"You do work up an appetite," he said.
Sometimes, the group gathers after a hike for a meal out together.
For calendar listings of winter events or to register: www.dcnr.state.pa.us/Calendar and select Raccoon Creek State Park as the facility.neigh_west
Sonja Reis, freelance writer: email@example.com.