331 National Parks Down, 81 to Go

For Ari Kissiloff, the best parts of summer vacation start in unexpected places. Like the time his twin sons couldn't fall asleep at Acadia National Park.

"We were camping, and my sons were 2, they're twins," Ari said. "One would wake up the other one, and we're in a camp ground with people all around us with our kids screaming at the top of their lungs. So one thing you learn when you have little kids is that when you put them in the car in their car seats, because they're comfortable and because of the motion, they go to sleep."

Ari and his wife decided to put the boys in the car and drive to lull them to sleep. What they didn't realize was that they were driving up a mountain.

"We just started driving. I had been to Acadia a couple of times, and one of the most famous things there is Cadillac Mountain, but I had always done the coast stuff so I had never been there," he said. "The sign said Cadillac Mountain was 12 miles away, so I figured that's a good amount of time for the boys to rest. I started driving and I realized I kept going up and up and up, and we ended up in this parking lot with no one there. And the sun was coming up over the ocean, and there's islands everywhere, and I just thought 'Oh my God, I can't believe I'm seeing this.'"

Acadia isn't the only national park Ari has visited – as of this writing, he's made it to 331 of the 412 national parks in the United States, with the ultimate goal of reaching them all.

He started his journey young, growing up in New York City and visiting the Statue of Liberty with family and with class trips. But the first park that made him want to explore more of the country came later, in the 1990s, when he and friends took a road trip through Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. The draw of nature and adventure piqued his interest.

"I'm not the kind of guy who wants to go to Disney World and sit there for 5 days at the beach," he said. "I like to explore and find new things. We'd be driving to a major park, and then we'd see the map and see that there were three on the way. And sometimes they'd be even better than the one we were driving to see."

As he got older, his trips evolved from road trips with friends to trips with his wife and sons. The bulk of his travel happens over his summer vacation from teaching at Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY, when the Kissiloffs travel for three to four weeks and fit in as many parks as possible, stopping to stay in the National Park lodges or camp at the parks along the way. He logs his travels on his website, Acadia to Zion, and plans to visit 10 parks this summer.

"I also get a month off in the winter, so I use that time to visit the parks in the American south, and to get away from the snow in Ithaca," he laughs.

To Ari and the millions of visitors to our national parks every year, these homes, mountains, beaches and parks are all entwined with our country's history and preserved so that we see our nation's growth.

"In the whole United States, there's a zillion amazing things to see, and this is a curated set of 411," he said. "These are places that you know they'll have a cultural significance or national significance."

But for Ari personally, the national parks gave him a new appreciation for history, a class that he never enjoyed in school.

"For example, reading a text book about what happened to the people in St. Croix Island is very different than going and having a ranger give you a 20 minute talk about what happened," he said. "You can ask questions, they have maps, they have samples, and you get to walk and see the island and the foundation of building that they live in. It just connects you to the past."

Thanks to National Park Service and its employees, many of whom are AFGE members, we will continue to have national parks for the enjoyment of generations to come.

Check out our recent article about Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, the birthplace of America. AFGE is proud to represent the employees who make these national parks possible.

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