Mich. Family To Discuss Nat. Park Odyssey At Detroit Show (2/7/2019)
Story by Rick Kessler
The Maitlands are the first family to visit all 418 units of the National Park System
It took them eight years and a handful of RVs to traverse the roughly 300,000 miles, but Jim and Cheri Maitland recently became the first family to have visited all 418 units of the National Park System (NPS).
Along with the youngest two of their seven children, the Jackson, Mich.-based family finished their trek by visiting the final eight National Park units — a unit includes national parks, national battlefield sites, national memorials, national scenic trails and national seashores — while visiting Hawaii in December of last year.
“We spent a lot of time sitting on our butts, and what we realized is that we wasted a lot of time not doing family activities. So we decided with our youngest two kids — they’re 12 years younger than their older siblings — that we weren’t going to give them the world; we were going to show them the world,” Cheri Maitland said.
Now semiretired — Jim is a high-rise window washer and Cheri is a horticulturalist — the Maitlands will be talking about their National Parks odyssey during two seminars this weekend at the 53rd Annual Detroit RV & Camping Show, Feb. 6-10, at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi.
The adventure began nearly a decade ago when the family watched “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” a six-episode documentary series produced for PBS by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan.
“We’re PBS people, and we were looking forward to and watching that every night. When it got all done, we said that we wanted to go to all of the national parks. That’s 60 of them,” Cheri said.
“It was 57 at the time,” Jim inserted.
“Right, but there’s 60 now,” Cheri replied.
One of the first stops was Big Cypress National Preserve in Ochopee, Fla., about 45 miles west of Miami. There they discovered the NPS’ Junior Ranger Program, which teaches youngsters about the specific history each National Park unit commemorates. When they realized their children — daughter Jameson, now 16 and Gerald, 15 — could be immersed in American history rather than merely read about it in a textbook, the Maitlands reaffirmed their resolve.
Saying his family’s first RV was an Apache Chief, Jim is a life-long camper who introduced Cheri to the lifestyle, and she quickly fell in love with the travel and adventure. Recently, they took time to answer a few questions from Woodall's Campground Management about their adventure. What follows is an edited account of that conversation.
WCM: Tell us about some of the parks and campgrounds that you’ve stayed at over the past eight years. What was your experience like in that regard?
Jim Maitland: We have used both private and the national parks and state parks. We use a variety, whatever’s convenient. When we went into Boston, we were in private parks. In San Francisco, we were in private parks. We love to be in the more wilderness parks for our personal preferences. We don’t worry about having electricity and stuff, but it’s very nice to have it when you need it, and we do use those parks. We have even stayed out on U.S. Interior (Bureau of Land Management) ground. We use a little bit of everything.
Cheri Maitland: We’ve even pulled into Walmarts and called an Uber to come get us. We did that with Minute Man (National Park in Concord, Mass.) and John Adams (National Park in Quincy, Mass.) because they were right downtown, and then used an Uber to get back.
WCM: Were you looking for anything in particular when you were deciding on what campgrounds at which to stay?
Cheri: We wanted to be as close as possible to the locations that we were at. Let’s use DC. There’s only one campground in Washington, DC. It’s called Cherry Hill — it’s top of the line — and they were incredibly helpful in getting us to the places that we needed. They told us, “We can drop you off, but if you just drive your truck up to the terminal, you can get on the subway and ride it.” So that’s exactly what we did.
Jim: I hate to go to this, but one of the big things that we found is because we’d gone to a 34-foot fifth-wheel, there were times when we could not get into a National Park. So we’d have to find a private park to camp in, outside of the National Park. A lot of times, too, we chose the private over the public because one of the things you don’t have with the National Parks is showers and electricity,
WCM: You mentioned you have a fifth-wheel now, but you’ve had a number of RVs over the last eight years on your National Parks adventure, including another fifth-wheel, several travel trailers and a truck camper specifically for Alaska. How has that experience been?
Cheri: Our first one was a 28-foot fifth-wheel, a Nomad, that we called Puck. We called it Puck because he said, “What’s it going to take for me to get you on the road?” And I said, “Wolfgang Puck pans.” So he went right to Sam’s and bought an entire set of Wolfgang Puck pans, because I like to cook. We loved it, but it wasn’t convenient for the kids, because we had to make up the beds every time for the kids. You had the pull-down couch, you had to put the dinette down.
Jim: The second one was a 28-footer. We were looking for a Bunkhouse. This guy says, “My brother’s got one.” We went out and looked at it, in the barn, with a flashlight.
Cheri: In the dark, in the middle of the winter.
Jim: And he said everything works on it. But when we got it out in the spring, and brought it home, it took a lot of work to get it to work.
Cheri: We could have bought a new one.
Jim: Yeah, we ended up fixing it all up. That one we used for quite a while because it was so convenient. That one, we camped in a lot. We did all kinds of stuff in it. But it was a 1999 and it was getting old, and we needed to have a little more space because we were getting bigger.
Cheri: And we named that one “Nip and Tuck” — you know, nip and tuck, because it had so much work done to it?
WCM: And what do you have now?
Jim: Well, we weren’tlooking for it but we came across a Salem toy hauler fifth-wheel. We call that “The Whale” because it’s 34 feet long.
Cheri: Our big thing is we never really wanted to have a slideout. We didn’t want the weight. We didn’t want any issues with it. What ended up happening is I said, “If we ever could find a slideout that you could utilize the space inside of the fifth-wheel, where he pulls into a gas station and I could fix lunch, or we could stop on the side of the road and go to the bathroom,” I said I would like that. So here we are, looking through the windows. He lifted me up, and there was probably a good foot and a half, that when the slideout is in, you can utilize the bathroom and the kitchen.
WCM: So your advice for RV manufacturers would be to make sure you can still access the kitchen and bathroom when the slideout is in?
Cheri: That’s probably that’s biggest thing for me. I don’t need it all the way in, but you’ve got to be able to walk through it while it’s in. You’ve got to be able to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and to utilize the bathroom. We would never purchase any fifth-wheel that I could not utilize the kitchen or the bathroom.
Jim: Insulation is a big key, too. Even in Arizona, it can get pretty cold.
But I’d have to say the biggest thing for me is better springs. They put 6,000-pound axles on it, but they only put 2,500-pound springs. Our fifth-wheel weighs 9,600 pounds dry, so when you load it up, you’re past the 10,000-pounds worth of springs even though your axles are still good. I’ve had that problem with all four fifth-wheels and I’ve broken enough springs that I carry a spring with me now.
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