Ezekiel Welch and Anabelle Aten’s journey to visit all 121 Pennsylvania state parks started with a Christmas present.
In 2018, they were given a Pennsylvania Parks and Forest Foundation Passport. The spiral-bound book enables participants to track their visits to every state park and forest district. In addition to having a space for each location’s custom stamp, the passport provides state park lovers with a checklist to visit certain overlooks, hike particular trails and more.
The present made perfect sense, as the young couple both love the outdoors. So when the weather warmed up in April 2019, the couple began their quest to visit all 121 state parks.
With a long list of outdoor interests, Ezekiel and Anabelle limit themselves to certain activities when visiting each park. They didn’t just hike or just camp. They did a little bit of everything.
They backpacked, kayaked, hiked, bird watched, camped, went bike riding and mountain biking and geocached. They also played disc golf at all 15 parks that offered it.
Ezekiel and Anabelle said what they enjoyed about the state parks are their variety and accessibility.
“There is so much natural beauty in the state of Pennsylvania and the state park system allows everyone to enjoy that beauty,” they said. “There are activities for every person’s capability and skill levels.”
Ezekiel, a 24-year-old safety consultant, and Anabelle, 23-year-old speech pathologist, both grew up going to state parks. They went camping and hiked with their families. But it wasn’t until they started visiting more of them that they grasped how many there really are.
“It is crazy to truly understand what ‘A state park within 25 miles of every resident’ really looks like,” they said.
While they visited all the parks as a couple, they were joined from time to time by friends and family members. Ezekiel, from Home, Pa., said his “home base” state park is Yellow Creek in Indiana County. The 2,981-acre park includes the 720-acre Yellow Creek Lake and is home to a sand beach, picnicking area and educational and recreational programs.
Anabelle, of Benton, Pa., refers to Ricketts Glen State Park as her “home base.” Known for its 22 named waterfalls, Ricketts Glen includes 13,193 acres in Luzerne, Sullivan, and Columbia counties.
“We both agree that these state parks hold a special place in our hearts,” they said. “We both love Little Pine State Park, a beautiful area. We camped here three times during our adventures.”
It’s hard to remember everything about every park when you’re visiting 121 of them. But there are certain moments that stick out for Ezekiel and Anabelle.
There was the time they spent days paddling the Allegheny River from Kinzua Dam State Park to Tionesta, Pa. Then there was the time their car went off the road while exploring Rothrock State Forest while traveling between two state parks in the dead of winter.
“We had to slowly maneuver the car back facing the right way. We could not continue straight so we had to turn around and reverse for approximately two miles until we found a spot that we could safely turn around,” they said. “That was a crazy weekend to say the least.”
After three years, Ezekiel and Anabelle had visited all 121 state parks. They “100 percent” recommend that people visit Pennsylvania’s public lands.
“It is one of the best resources the state of Pennsylvania has to offer,” they said. “Anyone at any park will make a memory and learn something new.”
Now that they’ve seen them all and have filled their Passport, Ezekiel and Anabelle said they have plans to go back and visit many again. They already have a list of the parks they plan to go back to and camp. They also have plans to hike a portion of every trail that is part of the Keystone Trails Association’s State Forest Trail Award.
Ezekiel and Anabelle urge people to take their time in exploring this big, beautiful state. Pennsylvania has a lot to offer.
“It’s all about the experience,” they said. “Go out and see the state of Pennsylvania!”
Follow the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests News page to read more of Christian’s blogs, as he interviews other Seen ’em All Challenge completers, and writes about his own visits to Pennsylvania’s state parks and forest.
Christian Alexandersen ran one mile in each of Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks in 2021 and has been sharing with us stories and tips from his journey!
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