By Duane W. Gang / The Tennessean
To help ring in the New Year and continue its 75th anniversary celebration, every Tennessee state park will host free, guided hikes next week.
The "First Hikes" program will run Dec. 31 through Jan. 2 and include hikes for all ages an abilities, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation announced Wednesday.
Some hikes will be as short as a mile, while others will be longer and are geared for experienced hikers, parks officials said.
"We are very excited to continue the celebration of Tennessee State Parks' 75th Anniversary in 2013, beginning with this series of First Hikes," TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau said in a statement.
"These First Hikes offer a great way to get outside, exercise, enjoy nature and welcome the New Year with friends and family."
In Middle Tennessee, the "First Hikes" include a midnight moonlight hike and astronomy viewing at Radnor Lake State Natural Area on Dec. 31, a New Year's Day walk through the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, and a discussion about Hemlock trees and the battle to save them at Rock Island State Park in Warren County.
Some of the hikes, such as the Radnor Lake moonlight walk, have limited space and require advance reservations. For more information on all of the "First Hikes," go to www.tn.gov/environment/parks/firsthikes.
Tennessee's 54 state parks and 82 state natural areas as as diverse as the state itself and stretch from the mountains of East Tennessee to the banks of the Mississippi River. They stretch across Tennessee's cities and into its most rural areas.
Legislation creating the park system was passed in 1937.
"Tennessee's state parks have played such an important role in our history, and they play a critical role in our health and quality of life, which will benefit Tennesseans well into the future," TDEC Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill, who oversees the park system, said in a news release.