First Day Dog Hike rings in the new year in Belleplain State Forest

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Sunday, January 1, 2023
First Day Dog Hike rings in the new year in Belleplain State Forest
Dogs were barking up the right trees today during a First Day Hike with a twist in Cape May County, New Jersey.

WOODBINE, New Jersey (WPVI) -- The beautiful Belleplain State Forest in Cape May County was the perfect backdrop for one of America's State Parks First Day Hikes today. The New Jersey State Park Service organized dozens across its state parks and forests for the start of 2023.

"In 2016, I decided to incorporate dogs into the hikes," said Megan Ritter, an Agency Services Representative with the NJ State Park Service. "And it's become a tradition ever since."

What started as just a group of five people at Belleplain has grown into a community that hikes with their dogs monthly, not just when the calendar year changes.

"I just love it. It's my life. It's what I love to do," said Gary Hollinger from Port Norris, NJ. "I went through a few bouts of depression in my life and without my dogs, I don't know where I would be."

At recent events, Megan Ritter facilitated the collection of donations for the Humane Society of Ocean City, a shelter and adoption facility. She expects to make the delivery later this week.

She also enjoys simply exposing people to the beauty of Belleplain that they can enjoy year-round. The state forest, established in 1928, is among the broader collection in New Jersey with which Ritter has a personal connection.

"My father was a superintendent of state parks and I grew up running around all these historic places," she said. "So, I'm in my 20th year now working for the State Park Service and I'm blessed."

To learn more about Belleplain State Forest and how to get involved with their camping, swimming, picnicking, or hiking activities, visit their website.

Note: Swimming is only permitted in designated areas when a lifeguard is on duty.

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