When it comes to the great outdoors, Arkansas offers a variety of pleasures: from hiking and canoeing to birding and mountain biking.
For long-time friends Dell Tyson and Anita Young, the state has been the perfect spot to immerse themselves in a natural setting.
“We just love the outdoors…the hiking, critters and birds. And we like to take care of the land. We love it and everything in it,” said Young.
What began as a shared interest for Tyson and Young has grown into a meaningful and inspiring journey that taught them not only about themselves and their perseverance, but also about the treasures of their home state – The Natural State.
The pair recently achieved its goal of visiting all 52 Arkansas state parks. Years ago, Tyson and Young had chosen the state park system as a framework for touring Arkansas.
“The diversity of Arkansas’s landscape is amazing,” said Young. “There is truly something for everyone. You have the glitz in Little Rock and Northwest Arkansas, or you can spend all your time in the outdoors.”
A Rogers, Arkansas, native, Tyson had moved to Lawton, Oklahoma, in 1984 while her husband, Alan, was stationed at Fort Sill. There, Tyson and Young met and developed a friendship that has lasted nearly 30 years. Their bond is so strong that in 1993, when Tyson and her husband decided to return to her home state of Arkansas, Young and her husband, Jerry, joined them in the move. Both families now live in Rogers.
Upon moving to Arkansas, Tyson and Young took every available opportunity to explore the great outdoors.
“When we would plan a trip, we would get out a map and an Arkansas travel guide and go. At first we weren’t necessarily looking for state parks,” said Young.
Although family members have accompanied Young and Tyson on occasion, “we planned these trips for us,” said Young. “Our husbands didn’t want to look at any more trees,” she laughed. Both Tyson and Young have been married for more than 50 years.
As they learned more about Arkansas, they decided to formalize their explorations, setting a goal to visit each state park. Up until that point, that had seen about half of the parks.
Their goal became even more important in 2013 when Tyson was diagnosed with atypical Parkinsonism. She knew that her mobility might soon become limited, and visiting each park became a true mission for Tyson.
“It has only been in the last year that I started having trouble health-wise,” said Tyson. “I forced myself by setting this goal to go all over Arkansas. Previously I had only visited certain areas in the state. It was very important for me to finish this journey before my illness took hold.”
Both women say that their favorite park is “the one I’m currently in.”
The pair can only recall one time in which they felt in danger during their journeys. “When we were [in a rural area], a woman came out of her house and began chewing us out because there had been vandals in the area. I wouldn’t say we look too much like criminals!” Young said. “It was the only time in 23 years that we had a bad experience. However, we’ve gone down awful roads and creeks…places we probably shouldn’t have gone,” she said.
On the whole, both Tyson and Young feel they have made treasured memories to last a lifetime.
“I encourage anyone to do this,” said Tyson. “There’s something for everyone. You might not like everything, but there’s something for you. And don’t worry about getting lost. Explore!”