Ultimate Outsiderfest

Everyone is familiar with Oktoberfest, a festival of sorts that celebrates the coming of fall with food, drink and lots of fun. Outsiderfest is a bit different. It’s not a festival, but a celebration for the Ultimate Outsiders of South Carolina State Parks.  Those dedicated, adventurous park visitors who have gone beyond just visiting their favorite parks to experience all 47 state parks and earned the title of “Ultimate Outsider!” Last month we celebrated their accomplishments with Ultimate Outsiderfest, a week-long celebration filled with fun activities and unique park experiences reserved just for Ultimate Outsiders. 


The celebration was a way for us to reward and thank those park visitors who have become family.  I was excited to participate in the week for several reasons. I, too, am an Ultimate Outsider and enjoy experiencing unique programs and events at state parks, but I was most excited about getting the opportunity to meet and interact with our Outsiders. There were dozens of programs to choose from, such as behind the scenes tours of the Animal Forest at Charles Towne Landing and a trip up to the roof of the mansion at Redcliffe Plantation. Where would I go?  I narrowed it down to an archeological dig at Colonial Dorchester and a waterfall hike at Oconee. The dig, enjoyed by over 25 Outsiders, didn’t disappoint as we “dug” and discovered artifacts not seen for nearly 300 years.  The sense of wonder I observed on the faces of children and adults alike as they were inspecting their discoveries was inspiring. The dirt on their hands and smiles on their faces let me know the event was worth it. While the program was great, I was not really there for the dig, but rather to listen to our Outsiders. To get to know them, hear their feedback about the Ultimate Outsider program and their parks, and to make a few memories. The overwhelming response I heard was how important parks had become to their families since their Ultimate Outsider adventure. It had become a place to make memories and connections to both their family and their state. 


After spending the morning talking to the participants, I began to pick-up on subtle comments and started to think I may be on track to realizing what is really driving Ultimate Outsiders and this year’s Ultimate Outsiderfest. The day went by quickly- the summer sun and “air you wear” had taken its toll on this old park ranger. Drenched with perspiration, I was that much more confident in my decision that day two of Outsiderfest would be spent in the mountains. My hope was for cooler temperatures, and the feeling of the mist from the waterfalls of Oconee County. So off to Oconee State Park for a day in the mountains as Outsiderfest continued. 


The weather wasn’t much different as the humidity had found its way to the mountains. The crowd was however, only two. A father and his son out for adventure. Just the right size for me, as I could pick their brains about the Ultimate Outsider program and their state parks. Before we got started they asked: “Is it just us?” “Looks like it. I guess the heat kept some folks home this trip,” Ranger Stanton replied. Our two waterfall hikers exclaimed, “You really don’t have to do the hike for just the two of us!”  I quickly explained this is what Outsiderfest is all about- spending time and rewarding our Ultimate Outsiders with unique experiences, so off we went. Walking through the woods, I was fascinated to hear their Ultimate Outsider story, a yearlong trek where the entire family experienced their state parks.  However, today was all about a dad and his son on an adventure. In fact, dad had taken a week of vacation to experience Outsiderfest with his son. They were their camping at Oconee and making their way through the upstate to rediscover the mountain parks. A week that will surely become a lifetime of memories for both father and son.  As we made it to the first waterfall, I realized that Outsiderfest was about making memories and the journey, the quest. The quest to become an Ultimate Outsider, to visit all 47 state parks and to somehow continue the journey, to stay connected to their parks and the memories they have made. 


I know many people who are on the quest to become an Ultimate Outsider. For those on the quest wondering if they should continue, just ask an Ultimate Outsider and they will tell you. It’s worth the trip. As for our Ultimate Outsiders- stay tuned, we heard you loud and clear. You want more adventures and to continue the journey. Here is a hint- next year could be a busy year for you!


See you in the parks!

Phil