Susan Torrance, of Kittanning, Pa., had already visited nearly every state park twice by the time she acquired the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation Passport.
In fact, she was nearly done camping at all 60-plus parks that offered camping when she found out there was a place to track her visits to public lands with stamps.
“You know what that means? Another goal. Now I’m going back and getting the stamps for all of the parks that I don’t have stamps for,” Sue said. “I understand that I could write to the parks that I need and have them sent to me, but that’s not fun.”
Sue said the first park she remembered going to was Keystone State Park, which is about 10 miles from where she grew up. The 1,200-acre park located in Westmoreland County includes trails, camping and a lake.
Sue’s goal of visiting all of the state parks was hatched about 18 years ago. At that time, she wasn’t tracking every visit, but guesses that she visited every park by 2007. As more parks were added to the park system, she visited those parks.
“It wasn’t until about 15 years ago that I realized that I had already been to over half of Pennsylvania’s state parks,” Sue said. “That’s when I made it a goal to visit all of them. Why not?”
While exploring the state parks, she kept active. The laundry list of activities she participated in is astounding. They included hiking, bicycling, canoeing, kayaking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, white water rafting, backpacking and camping. Her more passive activities included stargazing, wildflower and tree identification, fishing, birding and picnicking. And sometimes, she just reads a book under a shaded tree.
“Fortunately, I’m still able to do most of the activities that I enjoy,” said Sue, who is 64. “I may do them a little slower, but I’m not ready to just sit.”
When you’ve spent decades in Penn’s Woods, you have plenty of stories to tell, especially about animals. There was the time Sue found a massasauga rattlesnake on a trail she was hiking at Jennings Environmental Education Center. Then there was the time a raccoon stole her hotdog at Ricketts Glen State Park. Then it happened again with a chipmunk at Kettle Creek State Park. She also had some run-ins with bears and dive bombing squirrels.
But there were also some lovely moments. Sue remembers when a kitten joined her and a friend while they were hiking on the Laurel Highlands Trail. The kitten walked behind them to the shelter area, spent the night with them and followed them for a mile the next morning before disappearing back into the woods.
Sue said she also remembers having butterflies land on her while walking near a patch of wildflowers at Cook Forest State Park.
“Many good memories,” Sue said. “I have met and visited with many nice people who share my love of the outdoors.”
Sue said she doesn’t have a favorite state park, as they are all so different. She visits the ones around her home in Western Pennsylvania the most. However, there are some parks that stick out in her mind. Certain moments. Certain accomplishments. Certain scenery.
Sue said she remembers seeing the northern lights while camping at Parker Dam State Park in Clearfield County. Few trails in Pennsylvania are comparable to the Falls Trail with 22 named waterfalls at Ricketts Glen. The first time that she was there, she hiked the 7.2-mile Falls Trail twice in the same day.
Whitewater rafting at Ohiopyle was also an adventure. Sue said she felt a sense of accomplishment when she completed the 70- mile Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail. The views at Hyner View State Park and Shikellamy State Park are fantastic.
“We are so fortunate to have a state park system with 121 diverse parks,” Sue said. “I’m not sure that the average citizen realizes and appreciates how much free recreation is available to them.”
On her journey to visit all 121 state parks, Sue said she was surprised to see how many small state parks there are in Pennsylvania. For example, Upper Pine Bottom State Park is only a couple acres with little to do. Sue referred to these as “road-side rest picnic areas.”
“When I set my goal of visiting all of the parks, I told myself that a drive-by wouldn’t count. I had to get out of the vehicle and do something there,” Sue said. “Some of these parks are in the middle part of the state and are close together and there are only so many picnic meals even I can eat in a day.”
Over the years, Sue developed a deep love for state parks and forests. It’s evident in the way she talks about them. Selfishly, she said, she would suggest less people visit the parks so that she could have them to herself. But, realistically, the state parks are too good not to share with more people.
“I’m constantly suggesting parks to family, friends and anyone who asks. Maybe if more people get out and use the parks, they’ll feel the same connection with nature that I do and will help to protect the environment for future generations,” Sue said. “Maybe they’ll see that climate change is real, recycling is a necessity, clear cutting is not the best way to do timbering, etc.”
At this point, Sue has taken hundreds of trips to state parks. She has spent countless hours on state park trails. Months of her life have been spent camping at state parks. And she has no plans on slowing down.
She plans to spend the rest of her life visiting parks, hiking, kayaking, camping and filling her Passport with stamps. And even after she’s gone, she wouldn’t mind having her final resting place be where she spent much of her life.
“Is it legal for a person’s ashes to be spread in a park?,” Sue said. “If so, put me there; any park will be fine.”
Christian Alexandersen ran one mile in each of Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks in 2021 and has been sharing with us stories and tips from his journey!
Follow the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests News page to read more of Christian’s blogs, as he interviews other Seen ’em All Challenge completers, and writes about his own visits to Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests.
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