Student hikes her way through AlabamaBy Sonya Haines | 10/02/2017 11:23am
There's a lot more to the state of Alabama than Bryant-Denny Stadium or that classic Lynyrd Skynyrd song.
Abigail Sisti, a junior biology major from Virginia Beach, Virginia realized this and decided to spend her junior year exploring the state she calls home during the school year by visiting every state park in the Heart of Dixie.
Sisti made a goal at the beginning of the school year to go to all 22 by May 2018. She spends every Sunday tackling a new park and has visited six so far, including Cheaha State Park in Delta, Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham, Rickwood Caverns State Park in Warrior, Paul M. Grist State Park in Selma, Lake Lurleen State Park in Coker and Chickasaw State Park in Gallion.
“I am not from Alabama and prior to coming here for school had never been to Alabama," Sisti said. "I did not want to go my entire four years living here only knowing one town."
While 22 different options can seem overwhelming, Alabama’s state park website makes the choice each week easier. The site offers a map with all of the state parks pinpointed on it and Sisti has been working her way outward from Tuscaloosa.
“I have started with the [parks] that are within a two-hour drive,” Sisti said. “I am saving the ones that are farther away for next semester when I won’t miss any football games.”
Next semester Sisti will make two-day trips, camping overnight, in order to mark the parks farther away from her list.
Each week Sisti invites friends to join her.
“People get excited when you tell them you are going to visit all the state parks, and they want to join you,” Sisti said.
Emma Wilson, a junior public relations and history major from Daphne, Alabama hiked with Sisti the first week at Cheaha State Park.
“I have lived in Alabama my entire life and have never been to [Cheaha] State Park," Wilson said." It was nice to see the natural beauty my state has to offer."
Wilson hopes to follow in Sisti’s footsteps if she ever moves out of state.
“It is important to utilize public lands because they are set aside by us and are paid for indirectly from our taxes,” Wilson said.
Spending time in the state parks gives visitors a new view of the state and what the state has to offer, Wilson said.
During her time hiking, Sisti has come across quite a few different creatures.
“When I went to Rickwood Caverns I saw bats and that was cool,” she said. “I also saw a water snake at Oak Mountain, which was a little scary.”
Sophie Williams, a senior English and biology major met Sisti during a study abroad trip in Belize last May where they had the opportunity to study tropical conservation biology together. During the trip, they learned about different species, and during their hike at Paul M. Grist State Park, they were able to use what they learned.
“We saw a lot of neat stuff, a ton of toads, small, funny, fuzzy caterpillars and strange black and red fuzzy bugs,” Williams said.
The trips have mostly been fun, but have also had a few frightening moments too.
“When I went to Oak Mountain, I spent most of the day hiking alone because not a lot of people were able to go, and it was scary,” Sisti said. “I took pictures of every mile marker I passed on my phone.”
During the outing, to Paul M. Grist State Park, the group battled spider webs throughout the trail.
“We didn’t see many other people, [in fact] we might have been the only people on the trail that day. We kept running into these spider webs [spread out across the trail], and getting a faceful,” Williams said. “We started to rotate who was in the front so that no one person had to deal with it the whole time.”
Sisti admits, that like most other students, she is busy between work and school, but has made her goal a priority and has been able to plan her weeks in order to finish all her homework before Sunday so she can spend the time outdoors. Her friends who have gone with her admit that they have found the trips to be a relaxing way to start a new week at school.
“It was a great day trip off from the day to day activities around campus,” Williams said.
Hiking and being out in nature is also beneficial for mental health in addition to physical health, Wilson said.
“[Doing this] has given me the opportunity to spend time doing what I love to do,” Sisti said. “Since my friends enjoy the same things I do, I have been able to spend some amazing time with them too.”