Hundreds of people spent a couple of hours welcoming the new year by navigating slippery mud, stumbling over tree roots and taking in the sights and sounds of the Eno River on a gray day under drizzling rain.
Children ran up and down the trail, picking up sticks and climbing rocks and ledges. Some adults walked in groups talking about school, new hips and growing up on farms. Others, like Ryan Gondeck, walked alone.
“It’s very peaceful,” said Gondeck, 33, who hiked the Eno for the first time Sunday since moving to Durham in August. “I’m thinking about nothing. That’s great. That’s why I am so relaxed.”
Gondeck and about 270 others participated in the 47th annual Eno River New Year’s Day hike Sunday. The outing was one of the first organized New Year’s Day hikes in the nation, starting a tradition that has been followed by local, state and national parks around the country, said Dave Cook, education coordinator for the Eno River Association, a 51-year-old nonprofit that seeks to preserve, protect and advocate for the river and adjacent land and trails.
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People started gathering around 1 p.m. at the Eno River State Park Headquarters off Cole Mill Road for a bowl of black-eyed peas. Then they had the choice to take a strenuous 4.1-mile Cox Mountain Trail hike or an easier 2.8-mile hike around the Fanny’s Ford Trail.
The point of the hike is to get people outside on New Year’s Day, but it also serves as an introduction for some to the state park’s nearly 30 miles of trails, which mix history, ecology and geology.
“It’s grounding,” said John Hughes, 67, of Cedar Grove.
The trails not only offer a quick retreat from city sounds and sights, but an opportunity to fulfill those New Year’s resolutions to get moving without the cost and hassles of signing up for gyms or trendy exercise classes.
“Just do it,” Cook said.
The Triangle is filled with hiking trail options along the Eno River, near Falls and Jordan lakes and at Umstead State Park.
“Some of them are a half-mile, and some are 7 miles,” Cook said. “There is just so much opportunity.”
If you enjoy consistency, pick a trail or access area and stick to it. In that path you’ll get to know the nuances – a root that looks like an anaconda, waterfalls that cascade after hard rains, old log cabins and fading graves.
The seasons bring variety through the bright green grass and wildflowers that rise in the spring, the leaves that canopy the trails in the summer, the view revealed by changing and falling leaves in the fall, and the isolated beauty of stomping through the trail in the snow in the winter.
Those who want an expanded adventure can explore some of the Eno’s treasures – swimming area Bobbit’s Hole, the secluded Eno Quarry and the swinging bridge on the way to the Cox Mountain Trail.
If you want a guide on your journey, the Eno River Association will lead different hikes every Sunday at 2 p.m. through Mother’s Day.
“So if you don’t feel comfortable going by yourself, you don’t know your way around, come out Sunday afternoon,” Cook said.
Thanks to a recent acquisition, there will soon be 4 more miles to explore. The association recently acquired a 1.9-acre conservation and trail easement on the river at Pleasant Green Road. The area will serve as a link in the future course of the North Carolina Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
After living in Raleigh for 30 years, the New Year’s hike inspired Sue Button to visit the Eno River for the first time. Button, 62, enjoyed the wide trail that was easy to navigate and meeting and chatting with new people. Her goal for 2017 is to take advantage of the Sunday hikes and learn more about the river.
While she may not make it every week, she’s one step closer to her goal after Sunday.
“I am ahead of last year,” she said.
About the Eno River State Park
The Eno River Association created the Eno River State Park in 1973 through a partnership with the Nature Conservancy, the state, the city of Durham, and Durham and Orange Counties.
The park is composed of more than 4,200 acres of protected natural area that provide water quality protection, wildlife habitat and preservation of historic resources. Five access areas provide entry to about 30 miles of trails.
Learn more about the park at http://www.ncparks.gov/eno-river-state-park.
Learn more about the Eno River Association’s Sunday hikes at http://www.enoriver.org/.