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Feb. 23, 2024

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First Day Hike a good start to 2017

Battle Ground Lake State Park among participants in state park department's program waiving fees on New Year's Day

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
8 Photos
Carol Whitaker uses poles for balance as she walks though a snowy patch on a guided hike Sunday afternoon at Battle Ground Lake State Park. Behind her are Junelle Lawry and her husband, Don Lawry.
Carol Whitaker uses poles for balance as she walks though a snowy patch on a guided hike Sunday afternoon at Battle Ground Lake State Park. Behind her are Junelle Lawry and her husband, Don Lawry. (Natalie Behring for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

BATTLE GROUND LAKE — There are many ways to begin the new year: a Champagne toast, fireworks or maybe just going to bed early. For many who love the outdoors, however, the start of 2017 was marked with a hike.

“The idea is starting your year off right (by) getting outdoors,” Washington State Parks Ranger Tom Riggs told a group of about 25 people who had gathered Sunday afternoon under a covered area at Battle Ground Lake State Park. They were about to head out on a First Day Hike, which has become an annual tradition for some.

There were perks to going hiking at a Washington state park on New Year’s Day. The vehicle fee was waived, and at some locations a ranger was on hand to lead the adventure.

That meant wildlife interpretation from an expert. As Riggs guided the group, he told them about the available camping and hiking amenities at the 280-acre park, including rental cabins with electricity, 10 miles of trails and a camping area for equestrians. He also touched on the geological features of the lake and the park’s vegetation.

Did You Know?

• Camping spots at Battle Ground Lake State Park require reservations for visits between May 15 and Sept. 15, and those reservations can be made up to nine months in advance. For more information, visit http://parks.state.wa.us/472/Battle-Ground-Lake

The edge of the lake is also the rim of an old volcano. The eruption occurred roughly 100,000 years ago underneath a lake, which “super heated” the water and caused an explosion of steam and rock, Riggs said. Some of those rocks are visible today around the perimeter of the lake.

Douglas fir trees towered above the hikers on the tour, and snow fell softly, giving the clear, blue lake a winter-wonderland look. Near the lake’s edge, a couple of small birds, possibly ruby-crowned kinglets, hopped along the ground.

The park’s habitat is Western Washington lowland forest, with an English twist. Riggs said park officials are waging a war against English ivy, an invasive plant that covered some of the ground along the trail and had worked its way up numerous trees.

“That is non-native,” Riggs said. “We maintain a constant battle against it.”

Although temperatures were in the low 30s and it was snowing, the hikers didn’t seem to mind.

It was Vancouver couple Mike Koon and Sue Vanlaanen’s third year in a row on a New Year’s hike. The previous two years, they went to state parks in Oregon, which have a similar program. One of the hikes, through the Mosier twin tunnels in the Columbia River Gorge, was so good that they later went back, bringing their family along.

First Day Hikes are “a great way to start out the year, get out and move, and digest the overeating from the night before,” Vanlaanen said. Koon added that he learns much more about a park on a First Day Hike than he would without a guided tour.

Participating in a First Day Hike usually comes with a free button. Vanlaanen displays her buttons on a jacket she wears hiking; it’s a good way to spread the word about the program, she said.

As Junelle Lawry of Vancouver hiked down to the lake, she explained that she only recently developed an interest in hiking, but it was an intense one. Last year, ahead of a visit from an outdoorsy cousin who lives in New Hampshire, the Connecticut native began scouting trails that he might enjoy while he was in town.

That curiosity led her to take what’s known as the 52 Hike Challenge last year. She ended up doing 64 hikes in 2016, all within about 150 miles of Vancouver. As she bought more hiking guides, the list of trails she wanted to explore only grew.

She’s doing the same challenge this year. Battle Ground Lake was hike No. 1.

The cousin back in New Hampshire is a bit envious, Lawry said. “He can’t quite do the year-round hiking we can do here.”

Columbian Assistant Metro Editor