Chilly weather no deterrent for York River State Park First Walk participants

Jimmy LaRoue

The frigid temperatures that started the new year did not deter Angela Dereix from bringing her two sons out for a hike Monday at York River State Park.

Dereix, who lives 8 minutes from the park, came out for the park’s First Walk program despite the temperature being 23 degrees at 11 a.m., when the hike began.

“It’s nice to come out and not fight shopping crowds and do something different,” Dereix said. “I think it’s just a great way to start out the new year in the right mindset. It’s enjoying nature and getting exercise.”

More than 50 people and six dogs layered up and took part in the 4-plus mile hike through the park.

The hike was part of the state park system's First Walk initiative, designed to get people to visit Virginia's state parks. As an incentive, parking fees were waived for the day.

“One of the reasons we have it is to get people out into the park and become familiar with it,” said park manager Jon Tustin. “We have free parking on this day to encourage more people to come in and take advantage of … the beautiful views from the overlook, to get enough of the park so they want to come back. I hope this doesn’t end the hiking experiences for most of these folks here, that they come back periodically throughout the year.”

Park Ranger John Gresham has been leading the walks since they began seven years ago.

Gresham said he was surprised there were so many people given the temperature.

"I didn't expect the crowd at all," Gresham said. “I'm surprised the people came out in these temperatures."

Knowing it would be cold, park staff prepared hot chocolate for hikers.

Last Jan. 1, Tustin said the park had about 150 hikers for the First Walk, but the temperature was about 30 degrees warmer.

Still, most participants stayed with the hike for the duration as Gresham shared facts about the park, along with upcoming hikes.

Amber and Ryan Hoisington, along with their children Henry, 11, and Brin Leigh, 8, said they had learned about the hike online and decided it would be a fun activity to start the new year.

Ryan Hoisington said the family arrived in Williamsburg from Columbus, Ohio, on New Year's Eve, enjoying Amber Ox's PG-500 block party Sunday before taking part in the New Year's Day hike. Amber Hoisington said it was a fun way to start the new year, and Ryan Hoisington described the family as casual hikers.

“It’s just something for us to do, kind of get out and active in nature a little bit out here,” Ryan Hoisington said.

Dereix said she is a regular visitor to the park. Tustin is hoping more follow her example.

“It’s a nice thing to do on New Year’s Day,” Dereix said. “It doesn’t matter the temperature or the weather. We’d still come. We would just dress accordingly.”

Want to go?

The 2,531-acre York River State Park, which features 30 miles of hiking, mountain biking and equestrian trails, is open daily from 8 a.m. until dusk.

Location: In James City County at 9801 York River Park Road.

Parking: $3

More information:

LaRoue can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342, by email at or on Twitter @jlaroue.

Copyright © 2019, The Virginia Gazette