Outdoor enthusiasts flocked to Tyler State Park on Sunday to partake in New Year’s Day activities.

Sunday was the official kickoff for the Centennial Celebration of Texas State Parks which turns 100 this year. Different events were held at various state parks across the state to celebrate, and in Tyler, the park hosted a T.R.Y.athalon in which participants could trek, ride or kayak their way into the new year.

About 20 hikers participated in the first hike of the morning, led by Bonnie Avonrude, first vice president of East Texas Trekkers. The weather forecast was perfect for a hike, with temperatures in the high 60s and sun peeking through the clouds.

Rachel Gean, a Palestine native who recently moved to Tyler, was participating in the First Day Hike for the first time. Although it was her first time taking part in this yearly tradition, she’s no stranger to state parks.

“I’m currently working on going to all the different state parks in Texas,” she said. “There are 89 total. I’ve been to 26 so far in the last two years.”

Gean’s goal of visiting all of Texas’ state parks came about after plans to travel to Scotland were halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Once that was no longer going to happen, I thought about other ways I could explore and thought, ‘how can I explore Texas?’ and I just thought of visiting all the state parks here,” she said.

During the New Year’s Day excursion, Gean was hoping to not just enjoy the outdoors but also make new friends.

“I really wanted to get out and meet people this year and explore nature at the same time,” she said. “I just thought this would be a great way to get involved in my hometown state park and meet people here.”

Gean said hiking is a hobby of hers that she enjoys.

“When I go to different state parks, I try to hike one or two of the trails that the park offers and they’re always really fun,” she said. “Each state park is really different; even though you do the same thing, you see lots of different things at each one.”

Gean visits Tyler State Park as often as possible to take advantage of her Texas State Parks pass and enjoy the scenery. She said Tyler’s park is beautiful and great for many to enjoy.

“It’s a great park, it’s definitely one of the larger ones,” she said. “I love the tall pine trees; not all the state parks have the pine trees of East Texas.”

She teaches physics and astronomy at Tyler Junior College, so she also enjoys coming out to the park to look at the stars with telescopes.

She said the First Day Hike will be a new tradition for her every New Year’s Day. The First Day Hike has been a tradition locally for about eight years, according to Tyler State Park officials.

More groups of hikers took to the trail, which is over 3 miles, throughout the day. Participants of the T.R.Y.athlon had the opportunity to check out stations throughout the park where they could learn about hiking, trekking and kayaking from the enthusiasts themselves.

Along with hiking, participants learned about mountain biking from the East Texas Trail Advocacy and took to the lake for kayaking with park rangers as guides.

Boyd Sanders, volunteer coordinator for Tyler State Park and Tyler Tourism Committee member, previously told the Tyler Morning Telegraph that the Tyler State Park plays an integral role in the Smith County community as well as across the state for those traveling.

“Tyler State Park is a great escape into the outdoors for learning, trying new skills, fishing, swimming, boating, biking and more. It is a place to gather with family and friends to create memories to last a lifetime,” Boyd said. “The park also offers Ranger programs to introduce our visitors to the park’s natural resources, history of the area, and outdoor skills to make the park visit more enjoyable.”

The 985.5-acre Tyler State Park is north of Tyler in Smith County.

Tyler State Park is located at 789 Park Road 16 and can be reached at (903) 597-5338. The park is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

For more information, visit the Tyler State Park website.

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