The fact that folks often don’t appreciate what’s in their own back yard might well apply to in-staters who don’t visit the Kentucky State Parks (KSP) scattered throughout the commonwealth.
Jed and Kelly Utsinger often drive six hours round trip from Baltimore, Ohio, to visit Kentucky’s parks. “They’re terrific,” said Kelly, who with her husband and kids, Kaylee, 6, and Ian, 10, have explored Natural Bridge State Resort Park, Constitution Square State Historic Site, Jenny Wiley State Resort Park and the William Whitley House State Historic Site.
Added incentive for their travels came from participation in a program begun in 2006 by the Kentucky Department of Parks. In devising a way to lure people – families in particular – into learning more about state parks at their own pace while having fun in the process, the department created Family Adventure Quest (FAQ), a trivia and digital photo contest for families and/or friends in teams of two to six people. That first year, 229 teams registered for the yearlong competition; 38 won prizes.
Basically, FAQ is a scavenger hunt made up of 25 challenges, or quests, that teams complete by traveling to state parks across Kentucky and taking photos while there. Although there is no set number of parks a team must visit, an average of eight parks might be used to complete the contest. While no more than three quests may be completed at one location, participants can research on the Internet and through park brochures to plan a trip with as much or as little travel as they prefer. Though a few quests are park-specific, a majority can be completed at one of several locations.
For instance, a photo may need to be taken of a team relaxing beside a structure built by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC), and several parks have those buildings. One quest calls for a photo of a plant used in pioneer folk remedies. Participants may have to “Google” a bit, but the plant grows in most parks, and once the competitor can identify it, they may choose which park to visit to snap the required picture.
Questers may need to enlist help from park employees or have a park staffer or guest snap a photo of the entire team. Should a team not get around to visiting a particular park, several bonus questions may be substituted to alleviate any performance anxiety.
For a registration fee of $15, a team receives a booklet describing 25 quests, a backpack, a simple compass, a KSP brochure and a Kentucky Visitor’s Guide. The prize for entries with all 25 answers correct is an $85 gift certificate good at any state park; 20 correct answers will net a $50 card.
Through the years, teams of young couples, senior couples, groups of friends and even a dog – with owners – have joined families in the challenge. Though only 65 teams participated last year, 100 had already registered as of June 1, 2011, and have until December 1 to complete their entries. Registration is still open.
The Utsingers, known as Team Travel Junkies, participated in 2010 and had so much fun they’ve signed up for 2011.
Ed and Karen Stotts of Louisville and their kids, Nathan, 9, Katie, 7, and Ben, 4, have used FAQ each year since 2009 to supplement their homeschooling curriculum. Already this year, Team Stotts Rocks has visited Tompkinsville’s Old Mulkey Meetinghouse State Historic Site, which has its own graveyard scavenger hunt that the kids love.
“Natural Bridge is a favorite for us,” Karen said. “It has safe hiking trails for little kids, and Ed can go on more challenging ones with his hiking buddies.”
“We hear from so many participants afterwards that they never would have visited a particular park if it hadn’t been for this program, or that they didn’t realize there was a bison herd at Big Bone Lick State Park,” said Dawn Garvan, marketing specialist supervisor for the Kentucky Department of Parks. “The Parks System has something for just about every interest, every season.”
Features vary from park to park, and include a variety of ranger-led programs, golf courses, camp grounds, archaeological finds, educational and historical facilities, organized games galore, marinas, lakes for boating and fishing, woods for hiking and bird watching, cozy fireplaces for warming winter toes and comfy rocking chairs for simply gazing into a setting sun.
The system has earned kudos, to boot. In 2010, ReserveAmerica.com named six Kentucky State Parks among the 100 top campgrounds in North America.
Four of KSP’s 18-hole courses – Grayson Lake, Pine Mountain, Dale Hollow and Yatesville Lake – have received national recognition from Golf Digest as “Best New Affordable Public Courses.”
If the FAQ sounds like fun – and it is – take a peek at photos from last year’s competition and pick up your team registration form at parks.ky.gov (look for the “Adventure” tab).