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'Spend money on memories, not things'

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MAP: Steve Park displayed this framed map of the United States with photos from each of his family’s travels to all lower 48 states onMonday, July 1 at the Upper Wabash Interpretive Center.
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TALK: Steve Park shares stories of his family’s travels onMonday, July 1 at the Upper Wabash Interpretive Center.
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ON THE ROAD AGAIN: Steve Park created this map of the United States showing his family’s last six cross-country trips over the last six years. Only Nebraska required a special trip to complete their goal of visiting all lower 48 states.
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FAMILY: From right to left, Steve Park,his wife, Melanie, their daughter, Maggie, 16, and their son, Nathan, 21, have visited all 48 of the continental states in the country.

by Rob Burgess - rburgess@wabashplaindealer.com

Steve Park has driven over 40,000 miles in rental cars. His family has visited around 14 countries and dozens of states. And, it all comes back to collecting life experiences.

“Our philosophy as a family has always been spend money on memories not things,” he said.

“Try to tell that to a teenager. That’s a tough sell,” he said, to laughter.

Park shared his family’s adventures during the Senior Monday Program on the afternoon of Monday, July 1 at the Upper Wabash Interpretive Center.

Park has been a teacher for 25 years, and currently instructs students in science at both Huntington University and Huntington North High School.

Park said he has been a Huntington County resident his entire life, but his family’s passion was always travel.

He, his wife, Melanie, their daughter, Maggie, 16, and their son, Nathan, 21, have visited all 48 of the continental states in the country.

“It’s about experiencing what God’s given us,” he said.

The Park family has always had a taste for experiencing the unknown. They have visited 37 national parks and monuments. They are now hosting a French student. When Nathan was 10 and Maggie was 7, the family backpacked through Europe.

“It was an absolutely fantastic experience,” he said, of their overseas trip.

Steve said the family ditched their television when Nathan was 2 years old.

“It’s our job as parents to keep them busy,” said Steve. “A word that is not allowed in our house is ‘bored.’ If you can’t find something exciting in your backyard … then there’s something wrong. Somebody has let you down somewhere.”

Steve said they have cut down on travel expenses by getting up early and going to bed late when traffic is at a minimum. They also know how to save on lodging.

“We know at least one person in all 50 states, which means we can call them up and stay at their house, which makes travel much cheaper,” he said.

Steve and Melanie are both teachers, and have taken advantage of grants to help finance their travel. In addition, any time they drive out of state, they rent vehicles instead of putting miles on their own cars.

“AAA loves us,” said Steve.

Near the end of his presentation, Steve showed the assembled guests a map of the country with six different colored lines crossing through several states. Only Nebraska was untouched by their travels.

“That little guy there in the center was elusive for a number of years,” he said, pointing to the Cornhusker State. “And, every time I would talk with people they would say, ‘Because there’s nothing there.’”

So, last Labor Day, Steve told the rest of the family to get in the car because they were going to check the state off their list. They then drove all night.

“We discovered there’s nothing in Nebraska,” he said, jokingly. “Omaha is pretty cool. There’s stuff to do.”

Now, only Alaska and Hawaii have eluded the family. But, they have a plan. Maggie’s senior trip will be to Hawaii, and Nathan, who is in the U.S. Coast Guard, is scheduled to be stationed in Alaska in the next few years.

“We have found adventure in everything,” said Steve.