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On January 1st, hundreds of hikers across British Columbia and Ontario welcomed 2019 by heading outside to take First Day Hikes in provincial parks.  And with improving fitness and nutrition, as well as spending more time with family and friends rounding out the top five most popular resolutions for Canadians, what better way to celebrate the new year?

The inaugural First Day Hike—meant to kick off the new year in a healthy way by getting people outdoors to experience nature and local history—took place in Massachusetts in 1992.  By 2012 the phenomenon had spread across the US State Park system, and in 2018 almost 55,000 people participated in guided hikes in all 50 states across the country.  With this in mind, the BC Parks Foundation’s Healthy By Nature initiative and Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) joined forces to launch the tradition in British Columbia this year.

Dr. Melissa Lem, a Vancouver family physician and board member of CAPE, co-led a hike on Mount Seymour with Jennie McCaffrey, head of Healthy By Nature.  They were delighted to guide a diverse range of participants, including a toddler in a stroller and hikers from Chile, Denmark and Hong Kong, through the lush rainforest of the Old Buck Trail.  “From lower stress and blood pressure to a boost in your immune system and cancer-fighting proteins, the evidence is growing about the health benefits of getting active outside,” Lem said. “CAPE is proud to play an ongoing part in helping Canadians connect to nature.”

Meanwhile, McCaffrey offered, “As a mom of two young kids, it’s important to me to that as a family we create traditions around outdoor activities in nature.  Taking a First Day Hike was a fabulous opportunity to get outside and have some fun!”

Ontario Parks also hosted several First Day Hikes on New Year’s Day.  As the first Canadian parks agency to promote First Day Hikes in 2018, their guided hike offerings expanded from one to seven in 2019, with hundreds of thousands of #FirstDayHike impressions and views on social media, and local media coverage from London to Wawa.  “Ontario Parks was pleased to add CAPE as a partner this year,” said Anne Craig, senior marketing specialist.  “Our collaboration with CAPE allows Ontario Parks to spread the message about the important connection between green space and health beyond our own borders.”

CAPE helped make this event a success by working with the BC Parks Foundation and Ontario Parks to recruit physician leaders, drum up publicity and deliver key messaging around green time and health.  Prizes for hikers ranged from gift cards to annual park passes—not to mention the chance to meet other nature lovers and improve their own health.  Follow our team to stay updated on other related projects this year, from sitting on the steering committee of the 2019 Healthy Parks Healthy People Forum, to launching a provincial Parks Prescription program, to many more community engagement experiences to come.