With a new year just a day away, it might not be the best time to lay a guilt trip on people.

But then again, this is the time for New Year's resolutions, and by the second week of January, many of our greatest intentions may already be history.

For all you couch potatoes who crave that Sunday football game fix, there's an alternative.

And for all you procrastinators who are used to pushing back that diet just one more week even after putting on those extra pounds from the many Christmas calories fests there is hope.

On Sunday, Pennsylvania is joining the other 49 states in offering a healthy solution to start off the New Year. Everyone in the Commonwealth guilt-ridden about that diet or not can enjoy a free day at one of our state parks.

The event, called America's State Parks First Day Hikes, is a win-win. Along with some healthy exercise and shedding those pounds, we get to enjoy the beauty of winter that only the Keystone State can offer.

Hikes are being offered at the Delaware Canal, Bucks and Northampton counties, and at Hickory Run in Carbon County. State Park staff and volunteers will lead the hikes, which are usually about one or two miles, but can be longer depending on the park and its terrain. Details about hike locations, difficulty and length, terrain and tips regarding proper clothing are listed on the America's State Parks website: www.americasstateparks.org [1].

"We are excited to join in hosting these hikes as part of this national effort to get people outdoors and into our parks," said John Norbeck, state parks director. "First Day Hikes are a great way to cure cabin fever and burn off those extra holiday calories by starting off the New Year with an invigorating walk or hike in one of our beautiful state parks."

The New Year's Day hike program, which originated more than 20 years ago in Milton, Mass, was intended to promote both healthy lifestyles throughout the year and year-round recreation at state parks. Sunday marks the first year that all 50 state park systems will join together to sponsor the event.

Norbeck said the event should attract everyone from the novice to the trail-hardened veteran to our state parks.

"Weather will dictate activities at our state parks on Jan. 1, but different hikes will match different abilities. The accent is on enjoyment," he said.

Ruth Coleman, president of the National Association of State Park Directors, says there's no better way to kick off the New Year than with a hike at a state park

"Think of it as the start of a new and healthy lifestyle for the whole family," she said.

Additional details can be found at www.dcnr.state.pa.us; [2] click on State Parks under "Quick Links," then select "Featured Events."

No matter if you're a couch potato, procrastinator or something in between, there's no better way to start off the year than enjoying the Pennsylvania outdoors.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com [3]