If you were to look at my social media posts or talk to me for more than a few minutes, you’d come away with one thought: Man, that guy really loves state parks.
It’s true. My conversations, social media posts, volunteering and hobbies are almost entirely related to Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests.
What surprises most people is that my love for Pennsylvania’s public lands is a relatively new one born out of a challenge I set myself. At the end of 2020, my grandfather Robert Sauer passed away following complications with COVID-19. His death inspired me to make a grand gesture. To do something he would have loved. To have an adventure in his name.
What I came up with was the self-proclaimed “121 In ‘21 Challenge.” The plan was to run one mile at all 121 state parks over the course of the year. Before my first runs on Jan. 2, 2021, I had spent virtually no time in state parks. I’ve never been an outdoors guy. I had preferred air conditioning, a comfy chair and a nice documentary about the outdoors.
But that all changed. Over the course of 224 days, I had run at every park and developed a deep and intense love of Pennsylvania parks. For seven months, my every waking thought was on the runs I’d be doing that weekend or planning where I would go next.
I’d spend my nights looking over elevation charts, mapping out my runs on the DCNR website and getting supplies ready. I’d pester my wife Abby with park factoids I learned. My Instagram account became dedicated to state park photos.
Visiting the parks was a life-changing, eye-opening experience. It was like I had only been able to see in black and white for 36 years, and then over the course of a couple months I could see every imaginable color. The state parks flicked a switch in my heart and soul.
As a result, I wanted to share this “discovery” with everybody. I brought family and friends along for weekend trips around the state. Standing among 200-year-old forests, clear rushing creeks and sandy beaches, I’d see it in their eyes. I got to see them fall in love. Just like I had.
So, during “I Love My State Parks Week,” I think about what it was that made me decide to spend the rest of my life exploring our beautiful public lands.
What do I love about state parks? Everything. That’s the best answer I have.
I love that our pioneer conservationists set aside land for you and me. Our parks and forests are our birthright as Pennsylvanians. They belong to us. And, boy, do we have so much beauty.
We have mountains and valleys, rivers, lakes and creeks. We have a biodiversity that includes everything from old growth forests and bogs to prairies and beaches. We have hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails.
Pennsylvania parks are home to hellbenders, black bears, bald eagles, elk and everything in between. Those that hunt and fish are as welcome as those who birdwatch and photograph nature.
I cannot tell you how many times I stood in a park early in the morning ready to run but frozen in awe of what I was seeing. Morning fog over a peaceful lake. A sunrise through mountains. Snow slowly falling over a trail. Deer licking the morning dew from grass. They were breathtaking moments that will live with me for the rest of my life. I can see them so clearly when I close my eyes.
And I never would have experienced any of it if I didn’t take that first step. I would have gone the rest of my life never knowing what I could see just minutes from my front door. What a shame that would have been.
But the good news is, we can all experience this. We can all spend time in Penn’s Woods. In fact, the reason they were preserved is so that we would always have a place to connect with nature.
Naturalist John Muir once wrote, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” And while I cannot promise you a transcendental experience, I can promise you that you will not regret the time you spend in a Pennsylvania state park.
That’s what I love about state parks. I hope to see you out there.
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! To read more blog posts from Christian and other PPFF guest bloggers, visit our News page.
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