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Press Photo by Katherine Lymn Don and Shelly Hafner stand outside their RV at Red Trail Campground Friday in Medora.

One park per week: Couple plans to visit all 59 national parks

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MEDORA — They went from 3,500 square feet to 24-by-8.

Kansas City, Mo., residents Don and Shelly Hafner, on an expedition to see every national park in the United States, came through Medora this week to see Theodore Roosevelt National Park — No. 13 of 59. They’ve rented out their home, left their jobs and are living in a Survivor RV as they work their way across the country.

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The couple hasn’t planned out the entire trip, allowing for recommended sites that come up, or unexpected opportunities — like when earlier this year they won an Instagram contest to be at the reopening of the Washington Monument.

In fact, beyond Aug. 22, 2014 the couple doesn’t have any solid reservations in place.

Except, that is, where they will finish their trip on the 2015 Fourth of July.

Don wouldn’t disclose what park it’ll be, but followers can browse the remaining 46 and speculate — the couple have quite a following on a blog, Instagram and Twitter. Pinterest pages are in the works.

A guiding principle when they do plan is seeking moderate weather — the couple won’t visit Alaska in January or Death Valley National Park in August, Don said.

The couple also have gotten advice from others on similar expeditions.

Bill Goldstein and his family are on track to see all 59 parks before his children turn 18. With the sons ages 15 and 16, they’ve got only eight to do yet — and a good chunk will get knocked out with a family trip to Alaska in six weeks. They plan to accomplish their goal Aug. 8.

The Goldsteins met the Hafners at Congaree National Park in South Carolina.

About a year ago, Don and Shelly saw a commercial of a father-son duo planning to visit every park.

The seed was planted.

“We kinda realized how much we missed it and kinda loved it,” Don said of a trip to see Shelly’s family in South Dakota”

Shelly works in nursing administration and Don in financial services. Well, not anymore.

The pair, both in their 50s, essentially resigned from their previous positions and haven’t decided whether they’ll go back to work when their journey is over.

Sharing their journey

Don cautions that this trip is not a vacation.

The couple is busy everyday — whether Shelly is shooting photos that may wind up in a book, or Don is blogging about that day’s adventures.

They consider about eight hours so far to be true vacation — four hours at the Virgin Islands National Park and four hours at Isle Royale National Park in Michigan.

Sharing the trip is a big component of it for the Hafners, said Phil Singleton, a web designer hired by the couple to maintain their website, 59NationalParks.com.

The website and social media postings are showing Americans what’s right here in the homeland, Singleton said — he’s learning and living vicariously through the website.

“That’s a great part of what they’re doing, is some of us wouldn’t have thought about maybe making the national parks (a destination),” Singleton said.

The couple has picked up multiple Twitter and Instagram followers as they breeze through each park — as of Saturday, they had gathered more than 560 Instagram followers and 1,400 on Twitter. The followers become trip contributors, too, with recommendations if someone has been to a park that’s coming up for the Hafners.

Singleton said in the past 90 days, the site has received about 4,000 visitors who viewed the site’s pages 34,000 times. The Hafners hope visitors are realizing what natural beauty is right at home in America.

“Sometimes I think people forget to look out their own backdoor,” Shelly said.

Don said he also wants to get the message out to children, too — to “put this down and get outside,” he said, gesturing to his iPad.

He spoke at a couple schools in Kansas City before the duo departed, and they’ve FaceTimed with a school from the Everglades National Park in Florida to show students the wildlife there.

Goldstein said the trips have bonded his family together.

“It may start out a little hectic, but once you start disconnecting from all the technology and … demands of normal everyday life, and if you can get out into the wildlife and the wilderness, just together in isolation as a family, … endless possibilities of happiness can happen,” he said.

Teddy’s park

The Hafners, over their few days camping in Medora at Red Trail Campground, saw enough of the park to see all forms of wildlife offered there — buffalo, horses, pronghorn antelope, elk, prairie dogs and more.

“There’s just so much wildlife if you take the time to look,” Shelly said.

Since starting their trip in March, the couple has seen 15 bears, tropical birds, alligators and coyotes, too.

The Hafners disagree with ranking lists of national parks — it’s comparing apples to oranges, they said.

Rather, when they look back on their visits, it’s the people they meet that determine the best experiences, whether it’s locals or other park aficionados like Goldstein.

Shelly said she hopes their trip shows others it’s possible.

“People will say, ‘Oh, I wish I could go to that,’” she said. “... and I respond, ‘Well, with some planning, you can.’”

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Katherine Lymn
(701) 456-1211
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