Richard and Suzanne Zitrick saw them all and then some. They’ve visited all of Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks four times. Now, they are going for five.
Where is the beginning? Is it as simple as looking for a place to walk the dogs? Is it an obscured imprint of a childhood trip to Worlds End State Park? Is it family trips to Beltzville State Park or the PBS shows “Pennsylvania’s Route 6”, “The Pennsylvania Road Show” and “Pennsylvania Diners”? Or perhaps the Pennsylvania Game featuring Penn State professor Bernie Asbell and trivia galore?
Is it simply the joy of meeting people?
The beginning, although part of Suzanne and Richard’s fascinating collection of stories, is not on what they choose to focus.
Instead, they speak of the flowing, evolving experiences, the friends they meet, the food they savor, and the ups more than the downs.
They are in the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation (PPFF) conference room, and I sit across from them eyeing the box of donuts the Zitricks generously brought for the PPFF staff.
The donuts–welcomed in and of themselves–contain a story, as well, of a young Richard and his sibling’s fond memories of a local donut shop.
During introductions, I receive their business card. The lettering in the top left corner reads “Pennsylvania State Park Enthusiasts” and the background is a stunning view from the overlook at Kettle Creek State Park.
They pass around three bulging binders and a still budding, smaller one. Each binder represents a Pennsylvania state park and teams with information collected over multiple visits.
The carefully organized journal entries detail park facilities, and road conditions, – which at times leads Richard to write, “I’m over this malarkey” – food, points of interest, and photos from each visit.
I especially enjoy a section titled “Things to see next time”.
Inspired by the entrees, the Zitricks and my colleagues begin to share stories. The pages reveal not just the Zitricks’ personal experiences, but the history of these special places.
Hickory Run, in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains in Carbon County, boasts more than 40 miles of hiking trails and miles of trout streams. In one of the Zitricks’ photos, the foreground is the beige and grey rocks of The Boulder Field, a striking National Natural Landmark, stretching back to an emerald green treeline below the cloud-speckled sky.
I mistake Hickory Run as being their home park until Richard tells me that Nolde Forest Environmental Education Center is the closest and most convenient.
“We used to hike there, usually up to three times a week, for more than 20 years,” Richard says, “Initially, we documented our hikes, ensuring that we had tread every last foot of every trail, including the horse trails. We even purchased a book that showed trails that were no longer being maintained and we hiked them, too.”
Another close-by favorite is French Creek State Park.
When they visit a state park, Richard and Suzanne like to hike a trail, pick a nice place to lunch, and do a little sightseeing or drive around. “We have nothing, but positive memories,” Suzanne says before Richard adds, “except that one time we tried to stay in a cabin.”
En route to a cabin stay at Prince Gallitzin State Park, they encountered an accident. The crawling traffic soon forced them to decide–stay the course or turn around. Fearing they may end up sleeping in their car, they chose the latter. After that ill-fated trip, they decided overnight stays weren’t for them. “It wasn’t the park’s fault, though,” Suzanne says.
Asked about the motive behind their enthusiasm, Richard says, “on our family trips, my father used to b-line from here to here, point to point, and I wanted to do something different.”
This idea of, “what’s over there?” has led the Zitricks down many trails and roads, as well as across the paths of unique people who became good friends.
Two of them live on a farm near Mt. Pisgah State Park. Henry and Dotty enjoy stacking their hay bales in ingenious ways, creating snowmen, spiders, and pumpkins, to name a few. Many people stop to appreciate them and grab a pic.
Richard and Suzanne happily recall how they had been taking photos of the hay sculptures for years before meeting Henry and his wife. Now, they are good friends.
I love the story, reminded that time outdoors does create many memories. I mention my favorite state park is Pine Grove Furnace where my father and I frequently hike.
“It’s one of the only parks with two swimming areas,” Richard says.
“And, what was that nice, steep trail that leads up to the overlook?” Suzanne asks.
We stumble over it for a second. “Steeple Pole,” I say. Favorite park? Yeah, right!
Gently they correct me with “Pole Steeple!”
A moment lingers where we all remember our experiences there.
“I’m so glad I’ve gotten to hike it,” Suzanne adds.
I agree and tell them about a trail, Koppenhaver Trail, that the Friends of Pine Grove have helped make more accessible.
“Is it flat?” Suzanne asks. Earlier she had mentioned that even if they can’t do all the activities PA state parks offer, they still enjoy a walk, even if it’s a shorter one.
Mostly. And now with a new bridge, you can opt out of the steeper parts by connecting to the Mountain Trail, I tell her.
I soon learn about their other great hobby – visiting and photographing Pennsylvania’s more than 200 covered bridges.
Richard and Suzanne have seen them all, too! If you’ve seen the Theodore Burr Covered Bridge Society of Pennsylvania’s yearly calendar, you’ve appreciated some of the Zitricks’ photographs.
It’s as simple as that – a connection over a cherished space – and although I have barely scraped the surface of the trove of stories they have, I get it. It is about connection.
The Zitricks love PA’s state parks and they want to share that love with others.
This afternoon, Suzanne and Richard are going to Kings Gap Environmental Education Center – thrilled that today is that “one good day” of the week. In all their travels, they’ve come to learn that there is usually one wonderful not-too-hot, not-too-cold, blue-sky day.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always line up with the day you have.
Yet, I sense that even on the not-so-good days they go anyway.
They tell me as much. “With state parks, it’s not such a big deal to have that good day, but with covered bridges, well that’s a different story. If you don’t have that bright blue sky with a few white, puffy clouds, forget about it,” Richard laughs.
So, what’s next for Suzanne and Richard Zitrick? They’ll keep visiting the places they love. And now with three new parks on the horizon, new destinations await.
Brian Swift is the Public Engagement Coordinator at the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests foundation. Subscribe to our weekly e-blast to stay up to date on News, Events, and Blog posts!