Hikers gather for New Year’s Day stroll in ‘heavenly park’

Jan. 01, 2014 @ 06:17 PM

Wrapped up in coats, snug hats and some carrying hiking sticks, several hundred people set out to hike through the Eno River State Park on New Year’s Day as part of a decades-old tradition.

Robin Jacobs, executive director of the land conservation organization that hosts the hike each year, the Eno River Association, said the annual hike has been held since about the late 1960s. It started as a way to allow people to see “what a treasure” the river and the surrounding land is so that they would appreciate the value of protecting them in their natural state.

“That’s actually still the idea, and the same idea behind much of what we still do,” Jacobs said.

Attendance has ranged from a count of more than 800 people two years ago, she said, to the first day of 2013, when she said only a fourth of that total showed up.

Hike organizers estimated that 600 attended Wednesday's activity. The event drew families, dogs, self-proclaimed river-lovers and general hiking enthusiasts, among others. To handle vehicle traffic, park rangers were stationed inside the Eno River State Park entrance off Cole Mill Road. 

Liz Stabenow, the association's education director, said she’s worked to organize the hike for two years, but has been coming off and on to the hike for years, she said, since her daughter was very little. Her family also came to the hike on Wednesday, which included options for a shorter, 2-mile hike across a suspension bridge, and a longer, 5-mile route.

“I keep coming because I love sharing my love for the river,” Stabenow said.

Hunter Daughtrey and Janet Ruth Parsons were two of the participants on Wednesday. Daughtrey said they did the hike a couple of years ago, and found it a nice way to start the year after overdosing on football during the holidays.

“It’s great to move around because I think it helps raise your spirits,” Parsons said.

Mary Hawk drove from Burlington for her second New Year’s Day Hike.

“I think hikers are such wonderful people,” said Hawk, who is also a part of a hikers’ group. “I think people how are active and who like the outdoors seem to have a healthy attitude.”

State Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Democrat who represents Durham and Granville counties, also joined the hike. McKissick said he’s been participating in the hike since at least 1999. A friend got him into it, he said, adding that he sees it as a good way to take in some fresh air and to appreciate the park.

Howard Bomze has participated in the hike longer than his two children, Laila and Buddy, have been alive. Now it’s a family tradition.

Laila, who said she goes by “La,” noted that at the end of the hike, participants gather to eat popcorn and drink hot chocolate. One year, she said, the hike drew a smaller crowd because of the weather conditions, so they got to go home with popcorn of their own.

Before the group set off on their respective hikes, Eno River Association President Barbara Driscoll praised the size of the crowd.

“This heavenly park is here because of people like you,” she said.