SEVEN SPRINGS, N.C. (AP) — There was a little nip in the air, and everyone once in a while a strong breeze would blow.

Being winter, the trees were bare, having dropped their leaves to the ground. The trail was dotted with pinecones and covered with a bed of pine needles.

It was peaceful and quiet out in nature.

All of a sudden, the tranquility was broken by a group of women hiking — and laughing and talking.

It was the second Trail Sisters hike at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park.

It all began with Smith Raynor, trails planner for North Carolina State Parks. She got the idea from the 10K Woman Trail Project, launched by Hike It Baby and sponsored by REI.

"She wanted a way to get women out on the trails that maybe weren't hiking or were afraid of doing it by themselves," said Eryn Staib, park ranger at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park.

Raynor sent an email back in December to all of the female rangers in the state asking if they'd be interested in leading hikes for women.

The Cliffs held its first Trail Sisters hike in January and the second just this month.

"When I got the email, I thought it was a great idea," Staib said. "I get a lot of women who ask me are our trails safe and will they be able to walk the trails by themselves. I always tell them yes."

She said the Trail Sisters hikes and jobs at the Cliffs are for both girls and women of all ages.

"A lot of them haven't been out at the Cliffs before," Staib said. "And they don't want to get lost in the woods. So this helps to have a leader so then they know for sure that's where the trail is; they don't have to worry about trying to figure that out on their own."

The January hike took the women on the 1.9-mile lake trail. The group of about 40 cut through the beach and past the lake, where they saw ducks out on the water.

"They really liked it," Staib said. "We actually paused at the swim lake and took a group picture that's on our Facebook page. Everybody was saying they had a lot of fun and asking if we were going to have more."

One of the January hikers was Jane Walston, who returned for the February hike.

"I love being outdoors, and I had not been to the Cliffs for several years since my boys were scouting there," she said. "I've just been wanting to come and check out the trails."

That first hike, Walston walked with Staib most of the way and got an added bonus — a history lesson.

"She told me a lot of facts about the Cliffs that I didn't know," Walston said. "It was a beautiful day and just fun."

She said she was happy to be out in nature and had a feeling of accomplishment when the hike was over.

And she got the chance to socialize with the other hikers.

"I did meet a lady from Raleigh who had driven down here just for the hike," Walston said. "We became friends right away.

"I just think it's great to plan things to get women back outdoors. So many of the things that we do are in the house or in the kitchen or at the job. To have somebody else plan something for me to do that's outdoors is just great."

Emily Dunning and her friend, Amy Webber, also did the January hike.

The 30-year-old Dunning said she will sometimes go to the Cliffs to run, but likes it better with a group of women that she can talk to while on the trails.

"My kids (Carmen, 11, and Daison, 5) came with me in January," she said. "They liked it, too. It's fun just being outside in nature."

After the first hike, Dunning felt relaxed, and said it's a stress reliever for her. That's why she came back for the second hike.

Webber, 54, also came back for the second hike because it's a stress reliever for her. She said she went to the January hike because it had been years since she'd been to the Cliffs and she wanted to be outside and do something different.

"The first one was one of those kind of getting-out-of-my-comfort-zone-type things," Webber said. "It was cold, but good to be out in nature and with a group, and it made me feel good that I was doing something good for myself."

The February hike took the women on the long leaf pine trail to the sand path, which goes down to the Cliffs' group camping site. Then they took the Spanish moss trail. They followed the road back to the visitor center. The two-mile hike took the women about an hour.

"The main point of these is to get people who (a) haven't been hiking before or (b) are maybe not in the best health and aren't going to be going as fast," Staib said. "We're trying to get different levels."

The hikes started out at a moderate level. The one in March is a job for those who want a faster pace. But more moderate hikes will be held during the year.

"The benefits of an all-female group hike is getting them more comfortable on the trails," Staib said. "Some women don't really want to hike with a bunch of men. It's kind of nice just having all females. It's an empowering thing, too.

"And it's to raise fitness awareness, get out and exercise."

Sonya Woodard, 56, and her sister, Sabrina Patterson, 57, are both doing the 100-mile challenge at state parks this year, and decided to join the February hike at the Cliffs.

It was their first Trail Sisters hike, and they were excited to join the group and be out in nature.

"We're just trying to stay in shape," Patterson said. "This was a challenge to help us with our exercise."

It was Rosemary Poland's first Trail Sisters hike, too.

The 70-year-old said she doesn't like hiking by herself. The group concept appealed to her.

Trail Sisters hikes and jogs will be held monthly at the Cliffs. For more information about what's coming up, call the Cliffs at 919-778-6234.

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Information from: Goldsboro News-Argus, http://www.newsargus.com