Karen Verchimak liked hiking. And she liked Pennsylvania’s state parks. So she decided to take a hike in all of them.
“I was really just trying to find places to hike with my dog, Bruno,” Luzerne County resident Karen Verchimak said. “And I needed a goal. So I decided to see if I could visit all of the state parks.”
Initially, however, she hadn’t realized Pennsylvania had so many state parks. “I was surprised there were so many,” she said. When she found out there were 120 parks, she decided to give herself 10 years to visit them all—figuring on an average of one per month.
She ultimately finished her quest in just over nine years by this past July.
Bruno accompanied her on 72 of the hikes; this was made easier when DCNR started to permit pets to stay overnight in camping cabins several years ago. The change allowed Verchimak to bring her chocolate Labrador Retriever along with her for the longer trips.
Before the policy change, she would stay overnight with Bruno in a tent. “That was sometimes a challenge,” she said.
In addition to Bruno, sometimes her husband and sometimes her mother would be available to tag along on her journeys. They all grew to appreciate how big Pennsylvania is—and how big some of the state parks are.
They were also impressed with the state park system.
“I was surprised by how nice some of the parks were,” Verchimak said. “I get asked a lot which park is my favorite. They are all different, and each one is nice in its own way. But the two that probably stuck with me the most were Promised Land and Hills Creek.”
Her most interesting hike was Allegheny Islands State Park, however—the undeveloped park consists of a small group of islands and shoals in the middle of the Allegheny River, none of which are easily accessible. After checking out how best to tackle that one, Verchimak ended up purchasing a kayak and paddling to her destination.
Making her own booklet to keep track of where she’d been and where else she needed to go, Verchimak began counting in the summer of 2007 at nearby Nescopeck State Park and finished up at Dauphin County’s Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area in July.
DCNR added a 121st state park since she began—Washington Crossing Historic Park—but she visited that one too.
Hitting the trail with a purpose meant not gabbing too much about her plan during the hikes, but she enjoys talking to people about her experiences and swapping stories—particularly with her friends in her local hiking club, the Susquehanna Trailers out of Wilkes-Barre.
Several people who learn of her accomplishment express an interest in visiting a number of the trails and state parks she mentions, and she strongly recommends outdoor enthusiasts try to see as many different parks as possible.
Verchimak also speaks highly of the “Prowl the Sproul” festivities held every summer in the Sproul State Forest.
The weekend-long event links the Keystone Trails Association—of which she is a member—to Bureau of Forestry staff and local civic and sportsmen’s groups for a series of hikes and outdoor activities.
“Prowl the Sproul XII” was just held during the last weekend of July. She has also participated in “Trek the Tiadaghton,” a similar event in that state forest.
Not much of a shutterbug or selfie-taker, Verchimak doesn’t have hard “proof”—as she puts it—of all the stops on her tour around the Commonwealth, but she does have this advice for anyone interested in attempting something similar: “Just get out and try it.”
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