What is it about coming home? About knowing a place like the back of your hand, the memories of years gone by and seeing familiar faces that seem to ground us?
Beyond the scenic shorelines, tight-knit communities surround our lakes, drawing Alabamians back to their roots. For these Lake Harris families, it’s this sense of community and the beauty of their surroundings that have called them back home, providing a place to slow down, spend quality time with their families, build lifelong memories and stop for a breath of fresh air.
“Memories aren’t made on the cellphone or the computer. We have to make a conscious effort to turn things off, take time to get together and make a memory,” says Bethany Owens as she unpacks plates for a picnic at Lake Harris’ Chimney Cove.
A native of nearby Ashland, Owens and her son, Lyric, have met her lifelong friend, Robin Thornhill, along with her daughters, Willow and River, niece Sarah and nephew Josh, for an afternoon picnic and homeschool lesson on the lake.
“Family time is super special to us. We are a homeschool family and we love learning and exploring our world together,” says Thornhill, who owns and operates the Historic Ashland Theatre with her sister, Lori Sewell. “Everywhere we go there is a new lesson to learn. Nature is one of our favorite classrooms.”
While Thornhill’s husband John’s career has taken the family to the metro Atlanta area, they frequent her hometown of Delta and the surrounding communities near Lake Harris for quality family time.
“This area seriously has something to bring the entire family together for,” says Thornhill.
“Spend the hot hours of the day touring the area and hit the water before and after. It will be a weekend the kids will talk about for weeks. You don’t need the big city for fun. Unplug and unwind in nature — listen to the crickets and frogs, sing silly songs, teach your kids to paddle a canoe, and roast a marshmallow or two.”
For Owens, her recent move back to the area has been a way for her to teach and build closer connections with her 11-year-old son. As a cosmetics franchise owner, she is able to work from home and enable Lyric to have the joys of growing up in a small town.
“I was born and raised in Ashland, Alabama. My grandparents had a feed mill and farm. My mom was raised there, I was raised there. I’ve lived other places but recently moved back to my old family farm to raise Lyric on it. We homeschool, have cows, Lyric is a Junior BeeKeeper, Boy Scout, and lover of all things nature. We have a ball,” says Owens.
Both women recall fond memories as children on Lake Harris and take great joy in getting to make memories with their children at the lake and in its communities they love so much.
“As a girl, teenager and adult, I have spent many a summer day at Flat Rock Park. And now, from May to September, almost every single weekend is spent at Lake Wedowee. I love the fact that it’s such a short drive for us from Ashland,” says Owens.
Thornhill adds, “As adults, we competed several years in the Cardboard Boat Race fundraiser for the local Humane Society. It says so much about this community — seeing so many in the community together for fun and philanthropy.”
As their children run circles around the picnic blanket, paly Hula-Hoop, and blow bubbles, Thornhill and Owens laugh at how something as simple as a picnic can provide hours of entertainment. This simplicity, they agree, is key in family activities.
“We pile up in the pontoon boat and take the kids tubing, go on the hunt for a rope swing to jump off of, go fishing, kayak. Just being outside, whether on the water or taking a hike. My favorite thing about hiking or walking, whichever, is that there are few distractions and you can truly just get lost in conversation,” says Owens.
For both women, family is their top priority.
“Family is everything. The older my son gets, the more I realize he won’t be little long and we have to make every day count,” says Owens.
Thornhill agrees. “I promise, your kids will never grow up and say, ‘We spent too much family time together.’ After losing my mom, I’d give anything for one more adventure with her, so I’m taking advantage every chance I can with John and the girls.”