Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Legacy Department

Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management

Committee Member

Dr. Jeffrey C. Hallo, Committee Chair

Committee Member

Dr. Lincoln R. Larson

Committee Member

Dr. Elizabeth D. Baldwin

Committee Member

Dr. William C. Norman


First Day Hikes, which occur on New Year's Day, are part of a nationwide initiative led by America's State Parks designed to get more people outdoors enjoying the physical, social, and environmental health benefits associated with nature-based recreation. In 2016, over 56,000 people across the US attended one of the nearly 1,200 First Day Hikes offered. Despite the popularity of the First Day Hike initiative, relatively little is known about the First Day Hikers themselves, their reasons for participating, or the broader impacts of this experience, as the program had never been formally evaluated. To address these gaps, our study synthesized data from 1,934 hikers using field surveys collected on January 1, 2016 and follow-up web surveys in three of the more popular First Day Hike states, Georgia, South Carolina, and Massachusetts. Post-hike feedback from participants (N=584 web surveys) was collected in June and July 2016 and highlighted positive and negative aspects of the hikes, assessed broader program impacts, and identified potential opportunities for improvement in future years. Data were analyzed using chi-squared tests, t-tests, and descriptive statistics to examine the following variables: demographic characteristics, motivations for participation, perceived benefits, and outdoor recreation participation changes. Hike participants tended to be white, highly educated, local residents with previous hiking experience. Approximately 34% of hiking groups included children. Recommendations included a targeted emphasis on marketing toward and recruiting specific subgroups such as first-time hikers, families with children, and racial/ethnic minorities. Top motivations for hiking were being outside, trying something new, and spending time with others. Following the hike experience, top benefits reported by participants were exploring the natural world and exercising and improving physical health. Results from this study illustrate factors driving the overall success of the First Day Hikes initiative and show that this (and similar) park-based programs have the potential to affect outdoor recreation participation, foster connections between people and nature, and inspire future stewardship behavior.



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