By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Alabama’s great outdoors offers so many benefits, from abundant recreational opportunities to stunning vistas, that it’s sometimes difficult to fathom. And some, like Randy and Jennifer Householder, even discovered another benefit – love.
Alabama State Parks played a significant role in their relationship and eventual marriage earlier this year after Jennifer joined Randy’s Facebook group, Alabama Outdoor Adventurer, which has more than 19,000 members and focuses a great deal of attention on Alabama State Parks.
“I have enjoyed the outdoors for most of my adult life as far as hiking and stuff like that,” Randy said. “The way I kind of got going with State Parks is, for one, just loving Cheaha and the surrounding State Parks.”
In 2020, the Facebook group had a State Parks Challenge, where people registered and were required to take photos of certain features in the parks, like a photo scavenger hunt.
“We were able to drive a lot of traffic to the State Parks,” Randy said. “That helped build that love affair with State Parks by getting involved and helping promote and generate revenue for the State Parks. As I traveled the State Parks, I noticed some areas that needed improvements, and I wanted to help.”
Householder’s challenge efforts were rewarded that year with the Alabama State Parks Eagle Award, which is presented to people or organizations who have made outstanding contributions in support of State Parks.
“But we were just in love with the outdoors before any of that happened,” he said. “I’ve been hiking Cheaha, Guntersville and Monte Sano, and we bike at Gulf State Park and Oak Mountain. We’ve just been enjoying the State Parks. With the challenge, you had to visit 15 State Parks. Getting out there and visiting some of the smaller parks was really neat.
“Jennifer and I love to travel and hike at different locations. We had not met during the challenge, but I realized there were a lot of nice areas to hike and explore within in our own state.”
The couple met on August 30, 2020, on the Coosa River for a kayaking event, and Jennifer said COVID was a contributor to their future together because the Alabama State Parks remained open during the pandemic.
With so many businesses and establishments closed, Jennifer said that doing something indoors was out of the question, which caused them to get outdoors and explore the beauty of our state.
“I found myself falling more in love with the outdoors throughout COVID,” she said. “I’m a member of Randy’s group, and they had advertised a kayaking event on the Coosa. I didn’t have anything else going that week. I signed up and participated in the kayaking event. I met a lot of really great people, especially Randy, obviously.
“I think that’s one of the benefits of the outdoors as well. Not only do we find ourselves falling in love with nature, but we also find people who share similar interests and often develop lifelong friendships and relationships. There’s just something about the outdoors that unites all of us.”