Counting Them Down

Counting Them Down

Yosemite. Check. Yellowstone. Check. Rocky Mountain National Park. Eugene O’Neill’s home. Pinnacles National Monument. Check, check, and check.

Hunter and Sylvia Wright have set a goal to visit every U.S. national park and monument, and they’ve already made a good dent in the list.

Former president of UT’s National Alumni Association and five-term mayor of Kingsport, Tennessee, Hunter Wright (Knoxville ’61) is a retired civil engineer who worked at Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport. His wife, Sylvia (Knoxville ’61), is a retired Kingsport elementary schoolteacher and former chair of the UT Alumni Association’s Women’s Council.

The Wrights’ quest to visit all the national parks and monuments began when they retired and one of their children gave them a book on the national parks. “We always have been interested in the outdoors and loved to travel,” Hunter says.

The National Parks have a “passport” program that encourages visitors to get stamps at each site they visit. “We thought visiting all of the parks and monuments could be a possibility. We didn’t know if it was achievable,” he says. “But we got caught up in doing it. It’s just been a very enjoyable hobby.”

So far, the Wrights have visited 340 of the 390 National Parks and Monuments, which include presidential homes and birthplaces and Civil War sites. “We’ve seen so much of the country doing this,” Hunter says. “We’ve been to all fifty states and the Virgin Islands.”

Wherever they go, they try to take enough time to learn about the history of the area and enjoy its natural beauty. “We’ve gotten in so many interesting conversations with national park people about their locations. They love to tell you stories, and we love to listen,” Hunter says. “You pick up so much great American history.”

Their favorites? “I guess Yosemite and Yellowstone,” he says. “They’re all so beautiful. You want to go back.”

Sylvia’s favorite is Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. “I taught lessons about Mesa Verde in third-grade social studies, so I had a little knowledge of the place. These ruins are just unbelievable,” she says. Mesa Verde–“green table” in Spanish–was home to the Ancestral Pueblo People, the cultural group often referred to as the Anasazi, for more than 700 years until they mysteriously disappeared around 1300 c.e. The park includes more than 4,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings.

Part of their enchantment with national parks, Sylvia says, is that both she and her husband love history. “Even though you get older and retire, you don’t stop learning. Visiting the parks is a way to keep learning.”

Although their list of never-visited parks is dwindling, the Wrights still have plenty of traveling planned. Their trip to New Orleans and the site of the Battle of New Orleans was pre-empted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, so they hope to reschedule that this fall–maybe even dovetail it with the UT-Mississippi State football game.

And, although they spent 9 weeks traveling through Alaska in an RV, they never made it to Katmai National Park where brown bears can be seen catching fish in the waterways. “We’ll find some way, some time, to get up there,” Hunter says.