Texas state parks offer First Day hikes, rides and more

Many Texas state parks, including Inks Lake State Park, shown here, are offering First Day activities. Photo by Mauri Elbel
Many Texas state parks, including Inks Lake State Park, shown here, are offering First Day activities. Photo by Mauri Elbel

 

The best way to start the new year?

With a hike, of course. Or a paddle, swim, bike or run.

A slew of Texas state parks are offering First Day events on New Year’s Day.

“This program has proven itself as an ideal way for people to begin a more active lifestyle in the New Year and Texas State Parks are a perfect place to achieve that goal and enjoy nature simultaneously,” said Brent Leisure, director of Texas State Parks.

The idea is to help visitors jump start their New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and get fit. The activities are part of a national initiative to encourage people to get outdoors on Jan. 1. Texas events range from hikes to polar plunges, bike rides, short treks with adoptable pups and meditation walks.

Pedernales Falls State Park and PAWS Shelter of Central Texas will team up for an afternoon stroll. Visitors can bring their own pets or walk with one of the dogs available for adoption. Meet at the day use picnic area at 2 p.m.

Guadalupe River State Park will host a midnight hike to Honey Creek and a First Day Big Year Bird Hike. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area will host guided hikes to the summit of the granite dome. Hill Country State Natural Area will host a First Day Hike for energetic seniors. Buescher State Park will host a hike to explore the park’s history. Mother Neff State Park, Lost Maples State Park, Palmetto State Park, Colorado Bend State Park and Inks Lake State Park will host a First Day Hikes.

For a complete list, go here.

Baby Greens to launch healthy living challenge

Baby Greens is hosting a 28-day health challenge starting Jan. 14. Photo courtesy Baby Greens
Baby Greens is hosting a 28-day healthy living challenge starting Jan. 9. Photo courtesy Baby Greens
The restaurant on West Anderson Lane serves wraps and salads. Photo courtesy Baby Greens
The restaurant on West Anderson Lane serves wraps and salads. Photo courtesy Baby Greens

A drive-through salad and wrap restaurant in Austin is launching a 28-day healthy living challenge.

The 28-day challenge begins Jan. 9. A kickoff party is set for noon to 2 p.m. Jan. 7 at Baby Greens, which opened last month at 1508 West Anderson Lane. The party will feature food tastings, a yoga class by Black Swan Yoga and more.

Those who participate in the 28-day challenge will get healthy tips, recipes, workouts, facts, Baby Greens specials, and more through the restaurant’s Instagram account. They’re also encouraged to post photos about their own experience using the hashtag #28daysofbabygreens. If they post a lot, they’ll have a chance to win a grand prize, which includes lots of food from the restaurant.

For more information go here.

Take a hike with REI and Fit City

The Best of Hill Country Hikes with Fit City series resumes in January. Photo by Pam LeBlanc
The Best of Hill Country Hikes with Fit City series resumes in January. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

 

Want to explore some of the best hiking trails in Central Texas? Join me at one of the upcoming Best Hill Country Hikes with Fit City.

REI Outdoor School instructors lead the monthly guided walks. I tag along because I like to hike and want to meet other people who like outdoor adventure. Plus, I’d rather be out in the woods on a Monday morning than sitting at my desk working on a computer.

The two-hour hikes begin at 9 a.m. and wrap up by 11 a.m. Depending on the destination, a shuttle departs the downtown REI store at 601 N. Lamar between 30 minutes and an hour ahead of time.

Cost is $20 for REI members; $25 for nonmembers. To register or for more information, go to rei.com.

Here are upcoming dates and links to their registration pages:

National Park Service drops entry fees at parks on 10 days in 2017

Entrance fees will be waived at national parks including Big Bend National Park, shown here, for 10 days in 2017. Photo by Reine Wonite for National Park Service
Entrance fees will be waived at national parks including Big Bend National Park, shown here, for 10 days in 2017. Photo by Reine Wonite for National Park Service

 

Want to visit a national park for free?

The National Park Service has announced 10 days in 2017 when it will waive entrance fees for all visitors.

The free days are:

Pam LeBlanc takes in the view from the top of the South Rim Trail at Big Bend National Park. Photo by Chris LeBlanc
Pam LeBlanc takes in the view from the top of the South Rim Trail at Big Bend National Park. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

• Jan. 16, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

• Feb. 20, Presidents Day.

• April 15-16 and April 22-23, National Park Week weekends.

• Aug. 25, National Park Service birthday.

• Sept. 30, National Public Lands Day.

• Nov. 11-12, Veterans Day weekend.

The National Park System includes 413 sites including national parks, national historical parks, national monuments, national recreation areas, national battlefields and national seashores.Sixteen of those sites are in Texas. Read more about them here.

Entrance fees at 124 of the sites range from $3 to $30; entry is free to the other 289 sites.

The entrance fee waiver on the fee-free days does not cover user fees for camping, boat launches, transportation or special tours.

For more information go here.

 

Beer Mile World Championships unfold Saturday at Austin American-Statesman

Runners drink a 12-ounce beer before running the first lap around the course during the Beer Mile Championships on  Dec. 1, 2015. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Runners drink a 12-ounce beer before running the first lap around the course during the Beer Mile Championships on Dec. 1, 2015. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

 

Chug a beer, run, repeat.

Master that and you’ll know how it feels to compete in the FloTrack Beer Mile World Championships, taking place this Saturday in downtown Austin.

In 2014, the first-ever official beer mile race took place at Circuit of the Americas.

Long held unofficially, under cover of darkness at school tracks around the world, the Austin event featured professional meet standards, automatic timing and a $2,500 cash prize for winners. Runners came from as far away as Sweden and Australia to compete, and a Canadian postal carrier named Corey Gallagher sloshed away with the men’s elite trophy.

Last year the event moved to the parking lot of the Austin American-Statesman. Lewis Kent took down Gallagher’s record, running a beery impressive 4:47.17. On the woman’s side, Erin O’Mara notched a 6:08, 10 seconds faster than the existing record.

O’Mara will defend her championship this weekend, and Corey Bellemore, who has recorded a record-breaking 4:35.25 since last year’s race, will try to take the crown from Kent.

Andrea Fisher makes her way around the track during the 2015 Beer Mile Championships. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Andrea Fisher makes her way around the track during the 2015 Beer Mile Championships. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The 2016 FloTrack Beer Mile World Championships starts at noon Saturday in the parking lot of the Austin American-Statesman, 305 S. Congress Avenue. (Yay me!) Admission is free.

Competitors will chug a 12-ounce beer, then sprint a lap around a 400-meter track. They’ll do it four times in rapid succession. Anyone who loses a beer has to take a penalty lap.

Divisions include two open heats, a sub-elite heat featuring runners who had to qualify to participate, a celebrity heat and elite heats for both men and women.

The event will feature a beer garden, food trucks, music and competitors ranging from elite runners to weekend warriors. Admission is free. The races will be streamed live here.

Think you’ve got what it takes to race? Register here.

Want a trail of lights without the crowds? Head to La Grange

The Trail of Lights at Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Monument in LaGrange offers a less-crowded alternative to the Trial of Lights in Austin. Photo by Pam LeBlanc
The Trail of Lights at Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Monument in LaGrange offers a less-crowded alternative to the Trial of Lights in Austin. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

In my never-ending quest to avoid giant crowds and explore places I don’t normally see, I landed at Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Site in LaGrange this weekend.

The verdict? The park’s annual Trail of Lights, which combines a historic setting and a festive, quarter-mile trail shimmering in holiday lights, makes a fine alternative to Austin’s glitzy – and sardine-packed – trail at Zilker Park.

Santa and Mrs. Claus greet visitors during the Trail of Lights in La Grange.
Santa and Mrs. Claus greet visitors during the Trail of Lights in La Grange.

It takes about an hour and 15 minutes to drive to LaGrange, which is located east of Austin on U.S. Highway 71. The park is located on a 200-foot bluff on the south side of town, and features the ruins of one of the earliest breweries in Texas and a memorial to Texans killed in the 1840s during the War with Mexico. (Among them were the 17 Texian prisoners from the Meir Expedition who drew a black bean and were shot by a Mexican firing squad.)

The quarter-mile trail includes lighted trees and holiday scenes.
The quarter-mile trail includes lighted trees and holiday scenes.

Both sites are highlighted in the Trail of Lights, a quarter-mile walk through lighted displays of ice skaters, fishing penguins, trees, a nativity scene and more.

Visitors can walk through Kreische’s masonry home, too, which is decked out in traditional German style, circa the 1850s, with wreathes, candles, a holiday tree, and a few of those delicate, candle-powered wooden windmills made in Europe.

Little white lights outline the smokehouse behind the main home, and from the hillside overlook in front of the house you can see the lights of La Grange far below. Inside, the architecture drew me in – thick masonry walls, arched windows and wood-planked floors.

Kids can meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, and hot cider, coffee, hot chocolate and cookies are served.

The trail is open Dec. 16 and 17.
The trail is open Dec. 16 and 17.

The park looks like a fun place to visit other times of the year, too. The 40-acre property offers hiking, picnicking, tours of the ruins of the brewery, which fell into disrepair after Kreische died, and an interpretive center with lots of information about the early days of the brewing industry in Texas.

The Trail of Lights will be open from 6-8 p.m. Dec. 16 and 17. Entry fee is $5 for adults or $1 for ages 3 to 12.

Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Site is located at 414 State Loop 92. For more information call 979-968-5658 or go here.

Free yoga, beer and a holiday market at the Hyatt Regency

Free yoga, beer and a holiday market at Hyatt. Photo courtesy Hyatt Regency Austin
Free yoga, beer and a holiday market at Hyatt. Photo courtesy Hyatt Regency Austin

 

Add this one to the free fitness file: The Hyatt Regency Austin is hosting a holiday-themed Pints & Poses event that’s open to the public.

On Dec. 12, Austin yogis Ferny Barcelo and Zuzu Perkal will teach a complimentary yoga class set to live, meditative music from Trey Tarwater, a local yoga DJ. Participants get a free pint of draft beer at the hotel’s Marker 10 bar after the class.

Even better, people who bring a new, unwrapped toy suitable for kids ages 12 or under get entered into a raffle for prizes including a one-night stay at the hotel. Plus, local companies including Nanga Yoga, Curcuma, Artist Couple, Brilliant Imports, Milk Moon Jewelry and Psyche Jewelry by Nina Beremato will host a pop-up holiday market.

The hour-long yoga class will start at 6:30 p.m. in the hotel’s Texas Ballroom on the second floor. The holiday market will be open from 6-8 p.m. in the Texas Ballroom foyer.

Guests get free validated parking in the hotel’s parking garage.

For more information, call (512) 477-1234 or go here.

Donate a toy, get a free class pass at Dancers Shape

 

Dancers Shape will give away free class passes to people who donate a new, unwrapped toy. Photo courtesy Dancers Shape
Dancers Shape will give away free class passes to people who donate a new, unwrapped toy. Photo courtesy Dancers Shape

Give a gift, get a workout.

Local barre and Pilates studio Dancers Shape will host a toy drive Dec. 12-17 to benefit the Travis County Brown Santa Toy Drive. People who donate a new and unwrapped toy get a free class pass to Dancers Shape.

Juice Society, a popular Austin juice spot, will offer free samples from 5-8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 13, during a special holiday event. Everyone who attends a class during that time will be entered into a drawing for a grand prize from Juice Society.

Dancers Shape is located at 5350 Burnet Road. Photo courtesy Dancers Shape
Dancers Shape is located at 5350 Burnet Road. Photo courtesy Dancers Shape

Jennifer McCamish, a former Radio City Music Hall Rockette, founded Dancers Shape. The studio, located at 5350 Burnet Road, No. 7, offers low-impact classes that combine facets of ballet, yoga, Pilates and circuit training. The workouts are appropriate for all fitness levels and help improve posture, reduce body fat, and increase muscle tone, strength and flexibility.

The studio also works with NFL football players in the off-season. Read my story about that here.

For more information go here.

Brown Santa, a community service program of the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, provides gifts to underprivileged families and children in the Travis County area.

The toy drive runs from Dec. 12-17. Photo courtesy Dancers Shape
The toy drive runs from Dec. 12-17. Photo courtesy Dancers Shape