Thankful Indeed

As one of the nation’s longest-lasting fall foliage seasons comes to an end, I am quickly reminded that 2013 is almost over and I haven’t been able to accomplish all of the things I planned on doing at the beginning of the year. There are hikes, paddle trips, camping trips and countless state park events I missed this year, because there are simply not enough days in the week to do it all.

However, as I look back on the year, there are so many memories of hikes and events in the parks that will last a lifetime. In 2013 we introduced several new initiatives that we hope you will take advantage of in 2014. My favorite is the Ultimate Outsider Program, a great way to explore your state parks and make some great memories along the way, too. The program rewards you with an Ultimate Outsider t-shirt for taking the time to visit all 47 state parks.

The new guide also serves as an all you need to know handbook about South Carolina State Parks. It will tell you of the historic homes of past governors and presidential visits, and of opportunities to fish and enjoy watersports on South Carolina’s lakes and rivers. There are paddle trips and golf outings and ocean sunsets and views from the top of the lighthouse to the top of the mountain, all detailed in the guide.

And then there are the things you won’t read about in the new guide. Things I already knew but that were validated this past year through encounters with our visitors. I met so many people who have told me how special state parks have been in their lives. From marriage proposals and weddings, to where they caught their first fish, camped for the first time or places where they go to re-connect and reflect, state parks hold a special place in the hearts and minds of so many of them.

One day I was asked to present our very first Ultimate Outsiders, the Slagle family, with their t-shirts and congratulations. Plans were made to go to Dreher Island, their home park, but they wanted to come to us at our headquarters in Columbia. Much to my surprise, the Slagles wanted to present the state park service a token of their appreciation. They presented us thank you letters from their children and told us of their journey to visit all 47 of their parks.

Wow! Words can’t explain the impact they have had on us. With enthusiasm and sincerity they explained how the experience had bonded them as a family. The Slagle family found more than great state park adventures; they found difference makers and experiences and memories that will always connect them and will last a lifetime.

There’s so much to celebrate and be thankful for this Thanksgiving. I’m thankful to live in a state where one can visit the grandeur of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the gracefulness of the coast with its marshes, live oak and palmetto trees, a reminder that South Carolina is a very special place. I am thankful for state park employees who make a difference everyday by serving as stewards of South Carolina’s greatest treasures. Mostly, though, I am thankful for state park visitors who make this the most rewarding job there could be.

See you in the parks!
Phil