The new year is approaching and many people take the beginning of a new year to make resolutions for positive changes in their lives. One way to take this first step — assuming getting outdoors more and getting more exercise is on the list — is to take part in a First Day Hike at Sweetwater Creek State Park on Monday.

As part of a national initiative to encourage people to get outdoors, Sweetwater Creek State Park in Lithia Springs is offering three different First Day Hikes on Monday to start the new year off right amid nature's beauty in the county's own backyard..

The state park joins state and national parks from across America in hundreds of ranger-guided hikes organized in all 50 states on New Year’s Day.

Those hiking within the 15 miles of trails at Sweetwater Creek State Park are not alone, according to the American Hiking Society. The organization reported that nearly 28,000 people hiked over 66,000 miles last year on New Year’s Day.

Georgia’s state parks consistently rank in the top three in the nation and Douglas County’s crown jewel is the most visited state park in Georgia.

“This is a great way to start the new year,” Interpretive Ranger Don Scarbrough said. “Hiking, of course, is good for everyone in so many ways — physically, mentally and spiritually.”

He said it is a particularly great time for people indulging over the holidays.

The state park is offering three different hiking experiences New Year’s Day for people with different interests and physical abilities, led by knowledgeable staff or volunteers.

The “Historic New Manchester Mill History Hike” will be offered New Year’s Day from 10 to 11:30 a.m. This hike follows Sweetwater Creek down to and inside the ruins of the historic five-story Civil War-era new Manchester Mill, which was featured in the movie, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay.”

This walking tour, led by a park ranger, requires a moderate mile-long total hike down to the mill and back, said Scarbrough. He recommends appropriate dress for the weather and sturdy, closed-toe shoes are required. Cost of the hike is $5 plus $5 parking fee.

“This is a great hike for first-time visitors,” he said. “The New Manchester History Hike is best because it shows the highlights of the park — the five-story Civil War-era New Manchester mill and the beautiful white water rapids.”

First Day Hikers will receive a First Day Hike pin or hiking stick medallion on New Year’s Day while supplies last.

Visitors can walk inside the mill ruins now that the stabilization project has been completed, Scarbrough said.

“This is the starting point for the best hiking along the rapids,” he said. “It is not limited to history, as nature will also be the focus of the hike.”

A second hike on a different subject, the “Native American Heritage” hike, begins at 10 a.m. and runs until noon on New Year’s Day. Reservations are recommended and sturdy, closed-toe shoes are required. This hike is for those 6 and older. The cost is $6 plus a $5 parking fee.

This hike is a bit more strenuous at 1.5 miles, focusing on the first inhabitants of the Lithia Springs/Sweetwater Creek area, said Scarbrough.

The Native American Hike takes First Day hikers along the eastern side of the park, which will include a visit to a rock shelter, better known by locals as the “Indian Cave.”

Scarbrough said the Cherokee and Creek Indians lived side-by-side in the area until 1828 when they were forced out.

“The natives were forced to sell their land to the Europeans who were looking for gold,” he said. “This was 10 years before the Trail of Tears.”

There is also a guided hike New Year’s Day where canines and their companions are welcome to walk alongside the rapids of Sweetwater Creek and visit the New Manchester mill ruins.

The “Bark in the Park” First Day dog hike will be held from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Monday. Reservations for this hike are required, as are sturdy, closed-toe shoes. The cost is $5 plus a $5 parking fee.

“With the ‘Bark in the Park’ the ranger guide usually doesn’t talk as much,” Scarbrough said, “and the dogs usually set the pace.”

If you bring a dog to the state park, please bring water for yourself and your dog. Dogs should be on a 6-foot leash and have a current rabies tag or other proof of rabies vaccination.

These First Day Hikes are only a few of the many guided hikes and programs offered at Sweetwater Creek State Park through out January 2018.

A “Ruins to Rapids Full Moon Hike” is also scheduled Monday evening from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. It is a 1.5 mile moderately difficult hike to the New Manchester Mill and rapids of Sweetwater Creek. No children under 6 or dogs are allowed. A flashlight and sturdy, closed-toes shoes are required. Reservations are recommended. Cost is $6 plus $5 parking.

All hikes begin at the park’s Visitor Center.

Scarbrough said that individualized hikes to the mill can be arranged for groups.

For information on these and other programs at Sweetwater Creek State Park, visit www.gastateparks.org. Reservations for hikes can be made by calling 770-732-5871.

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