How do you send off a year few people will regret seeing in the rear-view mirror?

For more than 150 people in Southeast Minnesota, they’ll do it outdoors — a place that offered solace during a difficult year.

Quarry Hill Nature Center offered distanced nighttime hikes New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

“It’s a beautiful night; it’s nice to get outside with the shutdown, and it’s nice to spend some time with family,” said Kiran Goyal, who was there with his mother, father and sister for the candle-lit hike Thursday evening.

Each hike was divided into sessions of 25 people to allow for distancing. Hikers could warm up by a campfire with a cup of hot chocolate afterward.

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RELATED: Photos: Friday Night Lights at Quarry Hill Nature Center

Both nights sold out quickly, which wasn’t much of a surprise to Quarry Hill staff.

“There aren’t a lot of options to go out and celebrate right now,” said Lori Forstie, Quarry Hill outreach coordinator. “Getting out in nature is one of those ways.”

That’s not just for New Year's. Nature has been an escape for many Minnesotans this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic canceled events and forced many businesses to close.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported a jump in visitors to the state’s parks. Quarry Hill saw a 10% jump in visitors in March, April and May after area schools closed to in-person learning, said Pam Meyer, Quarry Hill executive director.

Clark Smith, 2, runs ahead of his mom, Brett Smith, during Quarry Hill Nature Center's first Friday Night Lights event on New Year's Eve Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Clark Smith, 2, runs ahead of his mom, Brett Smith, during Quarry Hill Nature Center's first Friday Night Lights event on New Year's Eve Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

“Our gate count was unreal,” she said.

Meyer said nature offers comfort in its patterns and refrains.

“The seasons are predictable,” she said. “In Minnesota, that refrain is comforting.”

Lauren Nichols, who is new to Rochester this year, described Quarry Hill as a gem of the city. It doesn’t hurt to let toddlers run off some energy, either, she added.

“I’m not a toddler,” Griffin Smith, 4, objected.

Ann Sigford and Folke Arbin, of Rochester, stand around a bonfire during Quarry Hill Nature Center's first Friday Night Lights event on New Year's Eve Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Ann Sigford and Folke Arbin, of Rochester, stand around a bonfire during Quarry Hill Nature Center's first Friday Night Lights event on New Year's Eve Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

“OK, a toddler and preschooler,” Nichols said, referring to 2-year-old Clark Smith, who joined Nichols’ family on the hike Thursday night.

Clark’s mom, Brett Smith, said they first visited Quarry Hill over Halloween and were glad to come back for another holiday event.

As 2021 dawned, visitors said although they were uncertain what the year would bring, enjoying the outdoors will still be a part of their new year.

“We’ve been encouraging (our parents) to get outside,” Seeta Goyal said. “I’m glad we did this tonight.”

“I think it will last beyond this year,” Kiran Goyal said.

Griffin Smith, 4, runs ahead of his parents, Brandon Smith and Lauren Nichols, and sister, Georgeie, 1, during Quarry Hill Nature Center's first Friday Night Lights event on New Year's Eve Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Griffin Smith, 4, runs ahead of his parents, Brandon Smith and Lauren Nichols, and sister, Georgeie, 1, during Quarry Hill Nature Center's first Friday Night Lights event on New Year's Eve Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
From left, Bhargavi Gali, Kiran Goyal, Seeta Goyal and Deepi Goyal, all from Rochester, warm up next to a bonfire during Quarry Hill Nature Center's first Friday Night Lights event on New Year's Eve Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
From left, Bhargavi Gali, Kiran Goyal, Seeta Goyal and Deepi Goyal, all from Rochester, warm up next to a bonfire during Quarry Hill Nature Center's first Friday Night Lights event on New Year's Eve Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Arthur Warrington and Eileen Kennedy keep warm with cups of hot cocoa next to a bonfire during Quarry Hill Nature Center's first Friday Night Lights event on New Year's Eve Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Arthur Warrington and Eileen Kennedy keep warm with cups of hot cocoa next to a bonfire during Quarry Hill Nature Center's first Friday Night Lights event on New Year's Eve Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)