Steven Gadecki’s love for the outdoors and national parks began when his mother bought him an L.L.Bean backpack for his freshman year at college. That backpack would become the catalyst for the next 15 years of his life, lasting through: college, volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, 1 year working with AmeriCorps, hiking 104 mountains, exploring 2 new countries, 12 new states, 14 national parks, and many more of life’s adventures, marriage, and the birth of his first child. When the backpack had finally taken its last breath, instead of throwing it away, he wrote a letter detailing all of the memories he had made with it and sent it back to L.L.Bean.
Steven’s story inspired L.L.Bean and his letter and backpack became a very welcome addition to the official archives at their Freeport, Maine headquarters. This year, to celebrate their 100th anniversary, L.L. Bean launched the ‘Million Moment Mission’. For every outdoor moment shared, they’re donating one dollar up to one million dollars to the National Park Foundation’s programs to get kids outdoors. Find out more about Steven Gadecki and his contributions to the Mission on their Trail Mix blog.
Steven took a few minutes to sit down with NPF and share some of his national park experiences. Here’s what we found out:
First national park experience?
Acadia became my first national park, really planting the seed of exploration into my eighth grade mind, which later grew into countless outdoor adventures. That first visit, when my best friend’s family took me on vacation with them, just left such a lasting impression on me. The trip was filled with rocky shore explorations, jumping into frigid Atlantic waters, and standing in silence as we consumed mass amounts of unexpectedly discovered wild blueberries.
Years later I returned to the park with some of my greatest lifelong friends, and again, walked up the rocky shore that climbed the coast; certain exhilaration swept over me as I remembered my first youthful explorations of the park. We rented a canoe and spent the day on long pond, hiked up Beech Mountain and tried to take in the view from Cadillac Mountain, but it seemed that nothing could defeat the Frenchman bay fog that day.
Favorite park visited so far?
Growing up on the east coast I would read about the grandeur of the western parks, with their granite formations and towering trees, but with nothing to compare them too, everything seemed really unfathomable. It wasn’t until I moved to California and bought my first car that I really had a feeling of independence, but it was when I first drove up to Sequoia National Park and stood in front of the General Sherman Tree, that I felt like I had made a momentous leap in my life. The park and that moment marked such a turning point for me, that I can’t wait till it’s time for my wife and I to stand in front of the tree with our son for the first time.
How many parks visited total?
18 national parks to date: Acadia, Joshua Tree, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Yosemite, Redwoods, Death Valley, Crater Lake, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Grand Canyon, Saguaro, Petrified Forest, Everglades, Biscayne.
What national park are you most excited to visit in the future?
The lure of Alaska has been calling me ever since I read about John Muir’s adventures there. I can’t wait to see Denali with its glaciers and frozen mountains. I’ve only heard great things about the scenic beauty and hopefully patience will serve me well until I can get there.
Any tips for visiting national parks with a baby/toddler?
Joshua Tree national park was my first California park and also became my son Hunter’s first national park. His grandparents came out to visit us that first Christmas with him and we headed out as a family for a day trip. He was just shy of seven months so we really didn’t know what to expect. All I can say is, don’t over plan your trip and expectations with young ones. Between the feeding, changing, and napping, we were only able to experience a little bit of the park with him, but sure created some great memories while there.
I was most surprised by ... experience at ... national park ...
In 2003 my brother and I took a trip visiting all of the national parks in Utah. During that week we had seen some of the most amazing geology that constantly changed as we drove through the state. Hiking up the Narrows in Zion National Park stands out the most when I look back upon it all. It was so unique to walk up the river between the red sandstone canyon walls where every turn seemed to bring about new visions of water carved rock. It was so inspiring to be there with all the visuals and sounds that we didn’t want to leave when it came time to. I really look forward to the next time that I can hike it.
Most difficult hike?
Mt. Whitney; there’s a lot of build up about this trail and for good reason. I had found out a month earlier that I was able to jump on my friends permit to hike it with him over Labor Day. Immediately I started training to prepare for the distance and altitude involved in this hike. When the day came, we hit the trailhead in the evening to avoid the heat and congestion making it the first time I had hiked straight through the night. The wind seemed to be in our face the entire time and I remember going through the 97 switchbacks thinking there had to be some end in sight, but when the sun came up, it almost took me to my knees. There was such a distance still in front of us that I really had to look inside to push through. It was the view from when you first step into the boundary line of Sequoia National Park, which really gave me the extra lift I needed to make it to the top. The visual distance from that point, in the morning light, with the clouds just so, put me in utter silence and awe of where I was. That summit was incredibly rewarding, even though it took us all day to come back down. Needless to say, I really slept well that night.
*Image: national park lover Steven Gadecki on a recent hike on top of Cloud's Rest in Yosemite.