Amanda Guizar has been fascinated with the outside world since she made memories with her family at Petit Jean State Park as a child. She remembered learning to fish with her father and running around the woods and fields. As someone who had struggled with weight issues, she also remembered that hiking had once been a challenge.
So after weight loss surgery, Amanda Guizar had several goals in mind. She’d been listing them for weeks before the surgery, even picking up a pen and writing them down. One of those goals was to visit every state parks in Arkansas. Then she found out there were 52.
“I did think, ‘wow, this is going to be a really big challenge — 52, ’” Amanda says. But after a few were under her belt, she could see success in reaching the goal. “After I got almost halfway,” Amanda says, “it became quite attainable then.”
Amanda set out to accomplish her goal one state park at a time, and she started with hiking to the highest point in Arkansas — Mount Magazine at Mount Magazine State Park near Paris. From there, she knocked out several easy-to-reach state parks within her commute to and from the Arkansas Department of Health each morning and afternoon. Amanda is a preparedness lead planner for the health department. Her job is planning for public health threats but day-to-day work responsibilities are diverse. “I’ve done everything from give a presentation at a conference to picking up trash at our warehouse,” Amanda says.
Although Amanda graduated with a degree in emergency administration management from Arkansas Tech back in 2010, she was once a fisheries and wildlife science major. The change in majors and career paths was inspired by a documentary on Super volcanoes. Amanda says she admired the first responders rushing to care of victims and wanted to do what they did. And now she does.
She still hears the call of the wild, so to speak, but says she’s content with her current occupation.
“If I had to do it all over again, it would be to work in the parks system,” Amanda says. “But this [her current job] is a pretty close second.”
Amanda documented her travels on Facebook, always snapping a photo, and trying to do an activity at each park rather than just visiting for a few moments. However, each state park is different. Some aren’t filled with challenging hiking trails or walls packed with historical information.
For example, there’s Conway Cemetery Historic State Park in Lafayette County — the resting place of James Sevier Conway, the first governor of Arkansas. There wasn’t anything for Amanda to do — the park doesn’t have any visitor or recreational amenities — besides admire nature and take a peek at the graves. So she sat down and ate lunch. Amanda says she thought it might be a little spooky, but the park became one of her favorites.
Amanda also stumbled upon a state park near McNeil called Logoly State Park that encourages environmental education and was the first state park in Arkansas to host events such as volunteer clean ups. Logoly created a template for other state parks to follow.
During her travels, Amanda discovered the incredible diversity of Arkansas. “If you’re from Russellville, from all the way up northwest, it’s mountainous,” Amanda says. “But if you’re from southeast Arkansas, it’s the Delta. It’s amazing how a small geographical area such as Arkansas can be so different.”
Out of all 52, Petit Jean State Park stands out amongst all the rest in Amanda’s heart. It’s her gem, the park that holds some of the best memories of her family and, in her eyes, truly holds the beauty of Arkansas. It was the first state park she visited as a child, and it’s the one that she’ll never stop visiting. “I still go there two or three times a year, and more so in the summer,” Amanda says.
Aside form the memories, the scenery on Petit Jean calms her despite the noise in her life. It’s one of the larger state parks so there is more foot traffic, but Amanda doesn’t mind.
“The scenery is just different, and it’s just so tranquil and peaceful up there,” Amanda says. “It’s just a great experience every time.”
While the state park travels started as a way to commemorate her weight loss journey, Amanda gained so much more. She learned that all of the road trips, hiking adventures and attempts at fishing led to memories she would never trade. “I went on an adult trip with some friends to Lake Ouachita and we rented a jon boat,” Amanda says. “We were out there all day long and we didn’t catch a single thing. But we had so much fun just putting around in that little jon boat.”
Amanda says that visiting state parks is also a thrifty way to make memories. A tank of gas is often all you’ll need to purchase. “All Arkansas state parks are free to get into,” Amanda says. “They may have a small fee for renting a canoe, or if you want to camp, but to get in and actually enjoy the actual property is free.”
There are also free events held at state parks regularly such as fish feedings, lake cruises, hikes with a park interpreter, and other outdoor activities often designed to educate.
Five years after beginning, Amanda finished up at Wooly Hollow State Park near Greenbrier this past March.The entire experience was so much fun that as Amanda neared the end, she dreaded the thought of it being over.
“I did feel quite a sense of accomplishment in that I had achieved a goal,” Amanda says. “A lot of times, I think we’re too hard on ourselves when we don’t achieve a goal, so it was really important for me to go ahead and achieve the goal. I thought as I first started it that accomplishing it would be the reward. But really, it wasn’t. It was the actual progression that was the reward.”
Though she doesn’t have any more state parks to check off the list, Amanda isn’t finished exploring. Amanda’s next goal is to visit all seven Corps of Engineers sites in Arkansas. Most offer campsites and other activities. And then she dreams of visiting more national parks.
“I actually kind of fell in love with national parks,” Amanda says.“I remember in second grade we learned about the Appalachian Trail, and I just thought that was the coolest thing ever. I still do think that’s an ultimate bucket list. I would like to at least hike part of it, even it’s just 10 miles.”
Overall, Amanda has become an avid advertiser for state parks. She spreads the word about her experience and shares posts from the National Park Service on Facebook. Amanda even helped her kids fall in love with Arkansas State Parks. But she didn’t do it alone. She says the park interpreters helped. “They played volleyball with one, they went on a bat hunting exhibition with one,” Amanda says. “The staff — all the way from the landscaping and the custodians that keep the parks in pristine condition to the park superintendents — I never had a negative or even just mediocre experience. It was all A-plus.” Now Amanda’s daughter is on a mission to visit all 52 state parks as well.
Amanda also did her best to purchase something from the parks or donate while visiting. Money spent at Arkansas State Parks goes to fund improvements, activities, and new parks.
“The more you visit parks,” Amanda says, “the better parks will be.”