By RICK STEELHAMMER
As an alternative to inching toward checkout lines amid hordes of shoppers on Black Friday, two West Virginia state parks and the New River Gorge National River are offering free, guided “Opt Outside” hikes to scenic locales in natural settings.
Opt Outside hikes began in 2015 when the management of REI, the nation’s largest outdoor outfitting co-op, decided to close on Black Friday, give its employees the day off and encourage them and REI customers to spend time in the outdoors.
An estimated 1.4 million took the company’s suggestion that year, and as partnerships with state and federal land managers grew, an estimated 6 million people took part in Opt Outside activities in 2016.
The Long Point Trail hike begins at 10 a.m. from the trailhead parking area, and is expected to end about 1 p.m. While the hike is free, reservations are required, and can be made by calling 304-894-2129.
A bit farther to the south, Pipestem Resort State Park’s Opt Outside hike will take participants through rolling terrain along the Lake Shore Trail, which passes through dense woods before reaching Long Branch Lake.
The moderate-difficulty, 3.2-mile hike, led by park naturalist Julie McQuade, should take 90 minutes to two hours to complete. It departs from Pipestem’s McKeever Lodge lobby at 10 a.m. For more details, call 304-466-1800.
Far to the north, Blackwater Falls State Park will host a naturalist-led, pet-friendly Black Friday hike starting at 9:30 a.m. from the lodge lobby. Hikers will walk a two-mile loop following sections of Shay Trace Trail, Balanced Rock Trail and Elakala Trail, giving them views of rock formations, forest and waterfalls. For more information, call 304-259-5216.
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