This Michigan family will set world record for visiting national parks
The Maitland family from Jackson, Michigan, is about to end an eight-year journey to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records.
The family is at Kalaupapa National Historical Park on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. It is the 418th U.S. National Park they have visited. They are now the first family to have traveled to each national park and unit—including national battlefield sites, national memorials, national scenic trails and national seashores—in the USA.
Dad Jim, mom Cheri, 16-year old daughter Jamison, and 14-year-old son Gerald embarked on the mission after watching the documentary “America’s Best Idea” by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan.
“It’s amazing what this has done for our family,” Jim Maitland says. “A lot of people don’t think that our history is important. But it’s interesting. It shows us who we are.”
The quest began in Florida. The family has zig-zagged the USA and its territories, logging more than 300,000 miles in their camper van.
Jim and Cheri Maitland are semi-retired. They have seven children but have also taken in two foreign exchange students who spent 10 months last year and this year traveling with them. They’ve been homeschooling the children to allow for all the trips.
They travel modestly, sleeping in the van most of the time. They even drove to Alaska, traversing 11,000 miles in six weeks.
“We thought Alaska was going to be hard,” Cheri Maitland says.
It turned out easier than anticipated.
“Every trip we learn something,” she says. “Know before you go. That’s the most important thing. Map where you’re going to go.”
Mishaps did happen along the way.
“It’s a wild ride for sure,” her husband says. “You never know when something is going to happen – busted tire or a broken spring. We always found a way to fix it. There was always a plan B. We’ve gotten down to plan D.”
They are now on their last trip, visiting all 10 parks in Hawaii, Samoa and Guam. They also traveled to the newest park in Lexington, Kentucky.
They have spent more than 1,000 hours volunteering at their home park, River Raisin National Battlefield Park in Monroe, Michigan.
Of the 418 parks, 59 are formally designated U.S. National Parks. The rest are units.
Jim Maitland says he’s enjoyed the smaller units as much as the big national parks.
“The smaller units, the reason we fell in love with them is they’re all about this country, how the USA was created, the good, the bad, the ugly,” he says.
They don’t have a favorite national park.
“We love every single one,” Cheri Maitland says. “Your favorite is the one that day. If you have children, you love them all.”
Gerald Maitland has especially enjoyed the battlefields. But he says he has had fun at all the parks – hiking, kayaking, meeting park rangers and other travelers.
At 15, he would become the youngest person to visit all of the parks.
“You get a different experience at every single park,” he says. “We went to the Manhattan Project, internment camps. I love war and that kind of history. I could recommend all the parks."
The family regularly blogs about their journey on Facebook, handle Parkboundmaitlands or Riverrasinnationalbattlefieldparkfoundation.
For a look at photos of some of their adventures, click on the gallery above.