There’s no better time to start thinking about goals than with the beginning of a new year.
Whether you are focused on improving your physical or mental health, spending time in nature has been widely proven to:
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Control weight
- Reduce risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers
- Strengthen bones and muscles
- Improve mental health and mood
- Improve sleep quality
- Increase your chances of living longer
- Increase positive feelings about quality of life
- Keep your lungs healthy
With the abundance of state park and forest lands and trails across the commonwealth, these natural areas can help you work toward your goals.
Not all goals are related to health and wellness. Some goals celebrate milestones or are used to remember loved ones.
No matter what your original goal is, spending time in nature will provide you with more than what you set out to accomplish.
And as we close out 2021, let’s look back at one of the Pennsylvanians whose goal brought him more than he expected.
Setting A State-Wide Challenge
Christian jogs through Little Buffalo State Park, completing his 121 in 21 Challenge. He ran one mile in every state park in Pennsylvania’s system!
Christian Alexandersen set out for his “121 In 21 Challenge,” running a mile in every park in honor of his grandfather, Robert Sauer, who died of COVID-19 in December 2020.
Christian began the challenge in January 2021, fittingly at Mont Alto State Park -- the first in Pennsylvania’s wonderful system of state parks. By the end of the day, he had run one mile in four state parks.
“My grandfather was not an outdoorsman and he was not a runner,” Christian said. “But he did love adventure. He did love a good story. Running a mile in every Pennsylvania state park would make for one helluva good story. That’s when I decided.”
Things continued that way for months. A few parks here, a few parks there.
Some moments stand out for Christian: Getting lost in knee-dep snow in Big Spring. Coming upon a runner during a downpour at an abandoned Colonel Denning. A fog covered stream in the early hours at Reeds Gap. Listening to the sound of swaying trees and leaves in Fowlers Hollow.
“During my journey to run one mile at all 121 Pennsylvania state parks in 2021, I encountered everything this commonwealth has to offer,” Christian said. “I ran on moss-covered trails, through old-growth forests and along picturesque streams. I ran around monuments, over dams, and through tunnels. Through blizzards, rainstorms, and heat waves, I ran.”
He gained familiar company when his incredibly supportive wife, Abby Rhoad, and friend, Adam Bricker, joined him for the overnight trips for clustered visits to several parks.
Abby’s enthusiasm grew as they visited new parks such as the sandy beaches at Presque Isle, the waterfalls at Ohiopyle, and the star-speckled skies at Cherry Springs.
Adam attracted families of turtles sunbathing, soaring herons, and too many deer, chipmunks, groundhogs, and foxes to count.
“Before 2021, I knew nothing about Pennsylvania state parks. I knew there were a couple close to my home in Enola, but other than that, nothing. A chance discovery of Little Buffalo State Park in fall 2020 changed that. I was surrounded by big, beautiful trees that were bright yellow, orange, and red -- their reflection made all the more colorful in the mirror-like lake.
Achieving Goals Brings Greater Appreciation
Christian high-fives his wife Abby after completing his 121 in 21 Challenge at Little Buffalo State Park.
In August 2021, Christian was surrounded by friends and family when he completed his final mile at Little Buffalo -- the place where it all began.
It took him 224 days to run a mile at all 121 Pennsylvania state parks. In total, that was 32 hours, 14 minutes, and 44 seconds running a little more than 125 miles -- with 7,545 miles of driving across the commonwealth.
“My biggest takeaway from my “121 In 21 Challenge” was how fortunate I am to live in Pennsylvania and have the park system,” Christian said. “I can hike in mountains and paddle down rivers. I can stroll through prairies and rest on beaches. I can explore history and make my own -- and so can you, for free. I always considered traveling something you left home to do. You had to get a passport and hop on a plane. You don’t have to travel to paradise. It’s already here.”
Endless Opportunities for Goals and Challenges
Christian’s words serve as a good reminder: You too can take up your own challenge and fill a passport book for all 121 state parks from our friends at the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation (PPFF).
Gather stamps from each park and forest and show off your accomplishment to your friends and family. PPFF also honors those who have completed the challenge of visiting all of our state parks, which is extra incentive to head out to our parks.
Beyond that, it’s a great way to see the entire state and to challenge yourself.
Many people, like Christian, have visited all of Pennsylvania’s state parks. PPFF has honored a few and you can learn a little about their stories here.
For the hiking enthusiast that wants a true challenge, DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry has teamed up with the Keystone Trails Association in recognizing any hiker who completes the entire 798 miles of the State Forest Hiking Trail system with the State Forest Trails Award.
If you have less time but still want to challenge yourself to spend more time in nature, you can also consider joining a park or forest Friends group and take up the challenge to help take care of public lands near you.
Another neat option to get started in 2022 is setting out for First Day Hikes on January 1.
Whatever you do, just know that nature can help make a challenge fun!