On April 9, 2017, Missouri State Parks celebrated it’s 100th Anniversary. In 2016, Missouri State Parks kicked off a quest to celebrate their milestone achievement: The Missouri Centennial Passport. The public was encouraged to visit all 88 state parks and historic sites in Missouri and get their passport stamped. Those completing the passport would be entered into a drawing for prizes. Angie and I purchased our passports last Memorial Day Weekend, and got our first stamp, at Onondaga Cave State Park (a side note: we were charged $10.00 when we saw passports on sale everywhere else for $5.00).
The passport quickly became more than just getting a stamp in a book. Instead it became about moments, bonding time with family and friends. It became about adventures. It became about family memories we will cherish for the rest of our lives. Here are a few of the exciting moments I have had in the last 11 months chasing stamps for the Centennial Passport:
- My coworker, and friend, Priscilla and I spent our lunch hour driving to Van Meter State Park during our break from training. We got all the way out there to find the office was closed for lunch. We did not yet know that you could still get a stamp even if the park was closed by taking a photo of the code and sending it to the Department of Natural Resources. That was an important lesson to learn.
- My Mother, Daughter, and even Brother spent and entire Saturday driving around the Central Region visiting parks and collecting stamps. The laughter and jokes in that car on that day linger. We got 5 stamps that day. We visited a civil war site, geocached in a park for veterans, and we learned that the descendants of Daniel Boone mined salt in Missouri from saltwater springs, and we visited the historical picturesque town of Arrow Rock.
- During our trip to the new Echo Bluff State Park last August we were blessed with a rainy day. We used that time to roam the back roads of the Ozarks to visit four different state parks. While visiting Current River State Park, my husband decided to throw a fishing line in the pond/lake there while waiting for me to get my passport stamped. He pulled the biggest bass out of that water that I have ever seen. (Don’t worry ya’ll he put it right back in there for the next visitor to meet.)
- Making it to Big Lake State Park over Labor Day Weekend with Meeghan and our kids to find a bald eagle in the midst of eating his dinner. He was only tolerant of my photo taking skills for so long before he flew away!
- Casually driving to Watkins Mill State Park and Watkins Mill State Historic Site and spying a beautiful spotted owl in a tree just off the road. The world stopped as I stopped the vehicle and just watched him watch me.
- Road Tripping with Coworkers to St. Louis via Jefferson City. We decided to take a less traveled road so we could pit-stop at Deutschheim State Historic Site in Hermann, MO.
- Having grown up in love with the house on the bluff (Bothwell Lodge State Historical Site) and getting excited to finally visit it. Only to have driven to it 3 times and never catch it open. While the grounds are pretty the little girl inside of me still wants to visit the inside. Maybe one day.
- In March 2018, Myself, The Short Chic, Angie, Z, and my mother all hopped into the Todd’s “carvan” and went for an 1800 mile road trip to collect stamps from the St. Louis and Southeast Region. We hit 32 state parks in three days! We went from Troy, MO to New Madrid, MO taking us all to the boothill for the first time in our lives. We walked to the point where the Mighty Mississippi River meets the Missouri River. We met a former Kansas Citian at the home of Scott Joplin. We met a current Northlander at Dr. Edmond Babler Memorial State Park. We arrived at Sandy Creek Covered Bridge an hour before the park opened. We visited Don Robinson’s grave site on the anniversary of his death while visiting one of the newest state parks on the land he donated. Angie and I made a late evening trip from Popular Bluff to Thayer just to arrive at Grand Gulf State Park after hours. Despite a locked gate and darkness we did got that code!
- This past weekend, with only 6 parks left, my family took me to Joplin, MO for a weekend getaway. We visited 4 parks on Saturday including Big Sugar Creek State Park and Nathan Boone Homestead State Historical Site. We hiked at Big Sugar Creek and followed the creek bed for miles. We found morel mushrooms and all kinds of spring plants blooming. While at Nathan Boone Homestead, we enjoyed a wonderful chat with the park ranger and leisurely strolled around the grounds.
- Sunday, April 9, we had 2 parks left to visit. We decided to go to Prairie State Park first and finish at Harry S. Truman’s Birthplace. We found wildlife before we formally entered Prairie State Park, we almost ran over a water snake on the road. Luckily for him, we missed him but he did have to deal with us backing up and snapping photos of him. At the park the ranger, Katie, was so nice that I felt guilty for not picking Prairie as my ending place. Katie gave us some direction to find the bison that roam freely in the park and we set off to find them. We did find the bison along the Standstone Trail with no real effort other than fighting the wind. As we went to grab our cameras for photos, my dearest husband realized he had dropped his cell phone somewhere along the trail. Unbelievably, he found it and we bailed on the rest of the hike and proceeded to our last stop.
- As we approached Lamar, MO it was past lunch time. We were hungry but we decided to grab a snack and eat after we visited Harry S. Truman’s Birthplace. Wayne kept joking that the ranger could get sick and close early so we had to finish as soon as possible. We arrived at the park office around 1:30. Bubbling with excitement I told the ranger that I was not only just there for a stamp but I was there for my 88th stamp. She was super nice and helped me finish the certification process. Afterwards, she provided us with a tour of the home Harry S. Truman was born in. I loved seeing my kids realizing how privileged they are when they see a home without running water, or electricity, or in my son’s case a full size bed that is smaller than his own bed.
The most common question that I have been asked is what is my favorite park. I have decided that is a hard question to answer. I have so many favorites, but I have come to realize that my favorites are all from places where I had a conversation with someone. A connection. Maybe not a forever one but an “in the moment” connection. So thank you to the rangers at Trail of Tears State Park and Nathan Boone State Park for just being nice and chatting with us. Thank you to the employee at Rock Bridge who did not close early that day so I could rush in from site seeing to stamp my book at the close of business (or maybe a little after)! Or the employee at The Battle of Pilot Knob who allowed us to explore the historic site even though he had reached the end of his day. To Aaron at Onondaga Cave State Park for helping us get into the park last year among the flooding. Thank you, and I am sorry, to Katie at Prairie State Park. I do wish I had certified with you! To all the Park Rangers and Volunteer Staff, you are the face of the Missouri State Parks system and you do a great job! There would not be a celebration without you all and your hard work.
When I walked into Harry S. Truman’s Birthplace State Historical Site on April 9, 2017, I did not realize it was the actual 100th Anniversary. I was trying to finish my passport before my own birthday. Angie told me after I called her with the news that I had finished. I can’t think of a more perfect way to finish this journey.
So, what is your favorite Missouri State Park? I can now say, “Oh, I have been there!”
Thank you to everyone who walked a part of this journey with me.