New Year's Day Hike

a healthy start to 2016

by Debbi Collar

Looking back at 2015 and hiking toward a healthy

Newly formed resolutions at the ready, the previous night's
New Year's Eve revelers awoke to a new day and new year.

Would they keep those promises they made to themselves
and to others  for the year 2016?

Kicking off 2016 at Breakheart Reservation in Saugus,
hikers held true to those resolutions for  a healthy s
tart to January 1st.

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of New Year's Day hikes
around the region were Park Rangers from the DCR (Department of
Conservation and Recreation) and members of its staff. The
Rangers readied the crowd for their first steps toward a healthy 2016.

They explained that there were three choices of trails to

a children's hike
... a family hike
for the more hearty, a trail with more of a rough terrain
to encounter in Breakheart's wilderness.

Hikers in our group opted for the children's trail. Its path
led by DCR Ranger Matthew Nash. Nash, who is normally stationed
in Revere has led school and community programs of the  city's
history and its wildlife surrounding the beach and beyond. He
educated New Year's Day hikers on the importance of being
observant, not only to look at the ground where we walked
but up into the trees as well as on the logs.  Within a few
minutes of our instruction, Nash had children and adults using
their senses of sight, sound, smell and touch to  discover
which animals had passed through the forest earlier in the day
or possibly the previous evening.

A squirrel's nest (drey) was the first to be spotted. Next, holes
in a tree where woodpeckers gathered searching for a meal of
insects, then we discovered the way to determine if those white
markings running lengthwise down a tree were signs of "sap from
the tree" or of "owl poop."  Both appear as "whitewash"  on a tree
and many people think the white stuff is sap.  A check around the
base of the tree for "owl pellets" can assist new naturalists in
figuring out which is which.  Remember, this was a children's

Children were the first to find the meat of some acorns that
had been left by behind on the logs. Our leader determined whether
or not a squirrel or chipmunk had stopped by for a bite, but how?
The animals had already left?  It was how the animal bit into
the meat of the acorn.  

On that same path we also learned about tracking and
discovered the hoof prints of a deer that may have
wandered by the previous night.  Nash looked at the prints
and as the children followed them, he told the group, the
deer might have been in some trouble. The Park Ranger
noticed that the pattern of the tracks appeared to be a
bit "off balance."    We also learned of the terms,"direct
registration" and "indirect registration" in reference to animal
tracks.  Fox prints are in more of a straight line whereas a
coyote or dog prints are not.

Leaving the observation of wildlife, Nash pointed out a
"pine tree" and asked the group to determine its age. It's
appearance was similar to that of Charles Schultz's "Charlie
Brown's Christmas Tree."  Guesses were shouted out, but
Nash once again went down on his knees in the snow to
show his group how to count the "whorls" on the tree to
determine its age. Children and adults were encouraged to
find their own tree. Both hunched over their own sapling
"soft pine tree" to examine and determine its age.
We also learned  that the yellow birch tree is also used for a
wintergreen extract. Putting theory into practice, Nash had
us scratching the bark and using our sense of smell.  It
proved to be true. The smell of wintergreen was there.

At the end of all hikes that went out at noon everyone
returned to the Visitor's Center to sit by the fireplace, chat
and enjoy some hot chocolate, cookies and a donation from
Kelley's of clam chowder.

"Massachusetts First Day Hikes" hats could also be
purchased for $5.00, but the hike itself was free, along with
the education.  It was a good healthy way to start out the
new year and much more than just a walk in the woods.

January 8, 2016

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