Mapping the Parks with Love

Meet Susan Smith-Gray, Champions Society Member
Susan Smith-GrayDonor Stories
Bison on Antelope Flats with Teton Range
Bison on Antelope Flats with Teton Range in Grand Teton National Park / NPS Photo

I know how much of a treasure our national parks are and how important it is that they be maintained for future generations to enjoy. And that’s why on Christmas 2010, my husband and I gave each of our three families copies of Ken Burns’ national parks documentary and book. We also made our seven grandchildren a promise: we would take each of them on a national park adventure of their choice. Their job was to read up on the parks and come up with an itinerary.

The two oldest picked Yellowstone National Park for summer 2011, and we took an incredible road trip from our home in Michigan. We stopped in several parks on our way through the Dakotas and even drove down to Grand Teton National Park.

Upon our return, their two younger cousins chose Acadia National Park for 2012. That summer, we enjoyed Maine’s beautiful coastline together. The boys found it fascinating – and today, one of them is studying marine biology!

A family of four poses in front of the Badlands National Park entrance sign

Smith-Gray family on a 2011 trip to Badlands National Park

Our next granddaughter picked Grand Canyon National Park for 2013. We explored Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis en route. Then we saw the canyon from both the north and south rims and explored as many other parks in the area as we could.

Finally, in 2016, our two youngest granddaughters wanted to go west. We explored Yosemite National Park, then drove all the way up the California coast stopping at many parks along the way to visit family in Redding, CA.

Every trip was a remarkable chance to get to know our grandchildren better. I’ll never forget laughing together during a storm in the Dakotas, trying to capture the lightning strikes on camera. And when all of the trips were over, the grandchildren created this very clever map for my husband and me. They first created the outline of the USA on boards. Then they used nails and string to show each route we traveled together. We’ll treasure that gift forever! 

We love our parks, but they’re fragile, and they need help. That’s why I have supported the National Park Foundation for many years. And I very much hope our adventures inspired our grandchildren to love and care for the parks, too.

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