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‘Mr. National Park’ Dave Parker has now visited all 59 national parks

Updated: 
September 21, 2017 - 12:05am

HILO — Just call him “Mr. National Parks.”

Dave Parker was 14 when his family traveled from their Detroit home to visit Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks in Wyoming. His family camped, rode horses, hiked and witnessed an eruption of Yellowstone’s fabled geyser, Old Faithful.

Now 77, the McLean, Va., resident fulfilled a “bucket list” desire with his arrival Tuesday night at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. He’s visited all 59 national parks.

“It was just spectacular to see the red glow from the volcano,” Parker said. “It’s the reason we came here.”

Parker’s wife, Carol, and his friends, Red and Sheri Cavaney, were in attendance Wednesday at Kilauea Visitor Center when HVNP Chief Ranger John Broward presented Parker with a “59ers” certificate of achievement signed by Acting National Park Service Director Mike Reynolds.

“How fitting to start his parks journey in 1954 with the geyser eruptions at Old Faithful and be here today in 2017 with the eruption of Kilauea Volcano,” Broward said. “… He couldn’t ask for a better last name … Parker.”

Parker was also presented a swag bag of commemorative gifts by the Friends of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Hawaii Pacific Parks Association, including ball caps, T-shirts, pins, a gift certificate for The Rim restaurant and a rain poncho — perfect for a wet Wednesday in Volcano.

After a distinguished career in government and business, Parker retired in 2011. While working in the Department of the Interior, he had a hand in legislation creating the Redwoods and North Cascades national parks and the Parks to the People program. As deputy assistant secretary of the Department of Commerce, he was responsible for promoting travel to the U.S. After leaving government for the private sector, he was vice president of the Edison Electric Institute, president of the Aluminum Association and president and CEO of the American Gas Association.

Parker remains passionate about national parks. In his retirement, he works with the National Park Trust and National Park Foundation. He said his favorite national park is Grand Teton, which he’s visited more than two dozen times.

“Anytime I can go west, I try to swing by Grand Teton,” he said.

Carol Parker, an elementary school teacher, used national parks in a lesson plan last year.

“I had the kids research the park of their choice. … And Hawaii Volcanoes was one of those parks,” she explained.

Parker taught his children to ride, hunt, fish and camp and instilled in them a love of the great outdoors, of which national parks are emblematic. Son Kyle and his wife, Michelle, own a home outside Anchorage, Alaska, where they can see Denali (Mt. McKinley) on a clear day. And daughter Megan and her husband, Dan, are building a home in Jackson, Wyo., with a view of the Grand Tetons.

Parker chronicled his travels in journals and hopes to convert his memories into book form by next year.

“My book isn’t going to be a best-seller,” he said. “It’s basically going to be something important to me — bear encounters, climbing falls and things like that. … Floating down the Grand Canyon is one of those spectacular things. And if you ever get a chance, I highly encourage you to do it.”

Broward expressed his admiration for Parker’s love for and commitment to the national parks.

“These national parks are special places, and being the father of an 11-year-old, I want her to have the same opportunity to see … and enjoy national parks,” Broward said.

Although not everyone will have the opportunity to visit all 59 national parks, Parker said everyone can experience national parks in their own way.

“Almost every national park has a local foundation that needs support in a lot of different ways,” he noted. “You can volunteer to work in the parks or you can make contributions (to) the parks. And you can also advocate that we do more to enhance the privilege that we’ve all had of going to the parks and teaching our children about the value of the parks.

“Remember, they will be the stewards of the national parks in the years ahead if we … train them correctly today.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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