Scottsdale couple shares love story involving national park travels

Kathleen and Darryl Toupkin love each other and love to visit the national parks. (Submitted photo)

Scottsdale couple Kathleen and Darryl Toupkin, whose love takes them across America, has traveled to nearly all the national parks.

In addition to their love for each other, the couple developed a love for the national treasures found within the confines of this country.

After going to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado in 1986, which was the first national park they visited, neither of them imagined that it would become their “passion and life’s mission,” Mr. and Mrs. Toupkin said.

Besides, they were not even married yet.

After visiting more than 100 units of the National Park system the couple, who began their journey with two beagles, the late “Hey Bear” and “Bagel,” made a goal to travel to at least one national park unit in every state including American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, plus Washington D.C.

So far, the couple has visited 353 units. They have completed 35 states, visiting national parks in each state, and traveled to a handful of U.S. territories. Each national park unit is different as some are educational and historical while others are purely nature, the couple noted.

“All have something unique to offer,” Mrs. Toupkin said.

The Toupkins take their time to experience each park, valuing some of the special things many visitors overlook. With no self-imposed deadlines, the couple said they are getting older and do not want to miss anything.

“When we first got the dogs, we got a pop up tent trailer and began to do camping, hiking vacations with them,” Mrs. Toupkin, 60, said.

“As we traveled, we began to stop at national parks and really enjoyed them. So, we started to look at the map and seek out national park units that were in the area. The more we visited, the more we liked them — not just the nature aspect but the history and geology.”

She and Mr. Toupkin, 56, look forward to every adventure and even invite others to come along.

“We may not be able to visit all 418, but we would like to try our best! ‘See America First’ became our motto and we’ve started a blog so we can share our experiences,” Mrs. Toupkin said.

The couple plans to visit some of the more remote parks in Alaska this summer including Aniakchak, Katmai, Lake Clark, Wrangell St. Elias and the Yukon-Charley River.

For anyone who wants to join them, their agenda entails hiking in Aniakchak, bear viewing in Katmai, kayaking in Lake Clark, hiking a glacier in Wrangell St. Elias and canoing on the Yukon River.

Mr. Toupkin, a Buffalo native and his wife, who moved from Canada, own their own company, FieldWorks Events & Marketing. Naturally, they produce running events and community festivals as they love the outdoors.

The couple often participates in running or hiking and recently completed a half marathon in all 50 states, Mr. Toupkin noted, adding that they host a weekly Meetup group in Scottsdale every Wednesday night to run/walk a 5k and make new friends.

It is not uncommon to see the pair on the trail during weekends.

Mrs. Toupkin invited people to read the blog and communicate with them at nationalparkunits.com.

“We enjoy writing a blog each week about a park, because it gives us a chance to reminisce and look through our old photos,” she said.

Read below to learn more about the adventurous couple before they head off to their next escapade.

Why is it important/interesting to visit all of the national parks?
At some point, we blew up a big map of all of the national park units and started to put pins in to the map to mark the ones we had visited and talk about the ones we hadn’t gone to yet. Now, we just naturally plan our next vacation to visit these parks, often returning to ones we loved and building an itinerary around the ones we have not visited yet.

How do the two travelers feel about the recent government shut down affecting national parks and did it affect the traveling agenda?
We just returned from a 10-day trip to Florida that we had planned almost nine months ago. Our itinerary included visits to five national park units — DeSoto, Everglades, Big Cypress, Biscayne and Dry Tortugas. Fortunately, we were able to visit all five.

The visitor centers were closed and not all of the restrooms were open. We were able to hike in DeSoto and read the informational plaques, and in all of the other parks excursions were still available through the concessionaires so nothing we had booked was canceled.

But we did miss the National Park Service Rangers — they are always such a wealth of information and they really provide so much more color and context to a visit. There were a few law enforcement rangers still working without pay and we were sure to thank them for being there. They, along with volunteers and state park personnel, did a great job under difficult circumstances to ensure that every one was safe and had an enjoyable visit.

What can others expect if they set out with a similar goal to visit the national parks?
Be prepared to learn! Every park is interesting in its own way. You’ll learn more about our country, our history and our natural resources. But logistically it is not easy. There are many park units that are pretty hard to get to.

You really have to want to get there. Dry Tortugas, Alibates Flint Quarries, Golden Spike — these are pretty much off the beaten path but so very worth the side-trip!

Independent Newsmedia News Services Specialist Delarita Ford can be reached by e-mail at dford@newszap.com.

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