Jim and Mary Davis recently achieved the ultimate feat for any Tennessean who loves the outdoors: they have visited all 56 Tennessee State Parks. They began their challenge in August of 2017 at Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park and finished at Big Ridge State Park in May of this year.
The Davises decided to embark on this challenge after realizing that while they had traveled extensively around the world they hadn’t traveled much in their home state; Jim grew up in Lawrenceburg, and Mary was raised in Oak Ridge. This desire to experience more of Tennessee paired naturally with their happy memories of time spent in the parks. When the Davises’ children were young, they enjoyed camping as a family at Pickett CCC Memorial State Park along with their friends who also had small children. Because the park was just a short drive away, they could leave after work on a Friday for a fun, affordable weekend getaway. Mary also fondly recalls vacations spent with her parents and extended family at Big Ridge State Park.
The Davises made more family memories in the years they spent working on their goal. At Mary’s favorite park, Reelfoot Lake State Park, the Davises were joined for a weekend by family members from all over Tennessee and even Georgia. Their group of 18 represented Nashville, Memphis, Atlanta, and Chattanooga and joined one of the park’s tours during Eagle Fest to look for eagles and their nests. They didn’t let a rainy day put an end to their fun; they escaped the rain by taking the children to the Discovery Park of America, a museum and exploration center, in nearby Union City. When they returned from the Discovery Center, mist had engulfed the Cypress trees on Reelfoot Lake:
It’s been more than three years since this trip, but the Davises still beam with smiles when remembering their experience. “We had just a ball,” says Mary.
Jim enjoyed embarking on adventures unique to a particular park and season. At Cummins Falls State Park, he and his wife trekked down to the Falls; even though they had to wade through the creek and climb over boulders, he says he would definitely hike this again to see the Falls up close. (Be sure to get your gorge access permit if you’d like to go.)
In June of 2018, the Davises went to Roan Mountain State Park just in time to see the rhododendrons in full bloom. Jim says, “The rhododendron is just unbelievable in June - I mean, just fields and fields of it. It is just gorgeous...and that was pretty fantastic.” I know what I’m doing next June!
While fulfilling their goal of visiting each state park, the Davises also explored outside of the parks. They often stayed in towns that were central to multiple parks so they could visit several at once, and for their meals, they sought out local restaurants. On one of their trips, they visited the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, and they even enjoyed their time in transit. Mary says, “We...loved driving through the countryside that we would never drive through if it wasn't for the park destinations!!!” The Davises’ experience highlights the importance of the state parks to Tennessee’s economy.
The Davises have some advice for anyone attempting to visit all of Tennessee’s State Parks. First, they recommend you get your Tennessee State Parks Passport; these Passports are available in the parks’ visitors’ centers; every time you visit a park, be sure to get your Passport stamped at the visitors’ center. (1) They did not realize these Passports were available until they had been to seven or eight parks but were able to contact most of the parks to get stamps sent to them.
Second, Mary recommends that visitors take good notes of each visit in their Passport; she says, “I really wish that I had taken better notes. Most of my pages in this book - it has a date, and that’s all … You forget so quickly so for anybody doing it - take notes.”
Now that the Davises have achieved their goal they will continue enjoying the parks. They’d especially like to spend more time in Frozen Head State Park as their first visit was a bit hurried.
I’m so glad I got to talk with the Davises about their accomplishment and have so many ideas for future park visits. Congratulations to Jim and Mary!
I believe you can send in your completed passport to receive a certificate, but I have not confirmed this.