Quest to Visit America’s Treasures
Zionsville Couple Vows to See It All
Writer / Rebecca Wood • Photos provided
For many, a good vacation includes a sandy beach and a comfy lounge chair. Katie and Jason Metz think differently. This Zionsville couple would rather use vacation time to tour a Civil War battlefield or trek through a rocky canyon.
The Metzes are like-minded in their approach to travel. Their trips are planned with military precision; their schedules are tight. A firm agenda is essential to the Metzes. After all, they are goal-setters on a quest to visit all 412 sites under the National Park Service (which includes parks, monuments, battlefields, etc.).
Katie, a practice administrator for Indiana University Health Physicians Emergency Medicine, starts to plan trips up to two years in advance. She combs through guidebooks and scans TripAdvisor. Then, she creates an agenda that would make the savviest of travel agents swoon.
For Jason, this sort of traveling is in his blood. He fondly recalls similar childhood family vacations. Every summer, his family piled into a van and traveled around the country for two weeks. It was during those trips that Jason decided on his future profession.
“I decided I wanted to be a history teacher after visiting a battlefield,” says Jason, a history teacher at Clark-Pleasant Middle School in Whiteland. “At one battlefield, I remember sharing history facts with a crowd listening to me. I’ve always been a history nerd.”
For Katie, this sort of traveling is new. When she said “I do” to Jason, she said “I do” to a life traversing the country and frequenting National Park Service sites. As an engagement gift, her in-laws gave her a homemade leather binder with the National Park Service logo on the cover. They explained that the inside pages were to be used to collect National Park stamps (doled out at each site by a park ranger).
Jason’s family members continue to share a common wanderlust and frequently swap personal travelogues. If possible, Jason’s parents and brothers still vacation together.
Although Jason boasts an extensive travel history, the pair decided to start afresh as a married couple on their journey to visit every National Park Service site. Once the marriage license was signed, they began to fill their National Park binder with stamps.
In three years of marriage, the Metzes have visited 15 of the 59 national parks and one-quarter of the 412 National Park Service sites.
The Metzes agreed on a few travel rules:
1. Stamps are only earned by doing something in the park (such as a hike); merely stopping by the visitor’s center doesn’t earn a stamp.
2. Iconic and historic lodging is their first choice in overnight accommodations.
3. If camping, beds and showers must be available at least every fourth night.
4. Dinners will be sit-down meals.
5. Dining will be done like locals (no fast food).
6. If possible, extended family will be included on trips.
7. Christmas and other special occasion presents will be gifts of experience (preferably ones they can use on future trips).
For instance, they recall visiting the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota. The couple toured the grounds before stopping at the visitor center that was closed for the day; they could not collect the site’s stamp for their binder. Whether or not the visit “counted” towards their goal is still under debate.
Although their travels are structured, a schedule doesn’t impede their focus on the awe and beauty found at National Park Service sites.
Jason beams when he discusses spotting buffalo in Yellowstone or touring Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
He radiates when he speaks about the Grand Canyon.
“Pictures of the Grand Canyon don’t do it justice,” gushes Jason. “When we walked up to the Grand Canyon, the crowds were in total and complete silence. It was like they were trying to understand the magnitude of what they were seeing and trying to get it.”
Jason uses these travel experiences and photos in his classroom curriculum. When he identifies himself as a teacher, National Park Service rangers frequently provide him with additional materials for his classroom. Jason says his students are more engaged when he incorporates his personal experiences and photos in classroom discussion.
To commemorate the National Park Service’s centennial anniversary, the Metzes added an additional goal. In 2016, they are striving to complete 100 miles of activities (hiking, biking, rafting, etc.) within the National Park Service sites. To date, the couple has racked up 91 miles.
The couple has a lot more traveling in their future. President Obama added 20 National Park Service sites during his presidency, including one national park. As the number of National Park Service sites continues to grow, more stamps are required in the Metzes’ binder.
But the stamps are secondary, admits the Metzes. They are really collecting memories.