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All-Parks All-Stars

Texas has more than 80 state parks. These people are visiting all of them. 


TO VISIT EVERY state park in Texas, you’ll need to drive hours upon hours, trek through dry desert terrain, wander among the pines and leave footprints in the sand alongside the Gulf of Mexico. Whether it takes a year or a lifetime, it’s a beautiful journey; every one of Texas’ state parks is worth seeing. Read on to meet the intrepid explorers who are undertaking the quest to visit all of them.

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Chris McLeod

WHEN THE COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, many people found themselves with more time than they knew what to do with. Especially Chris MacLeod, who had recently started working for himself with his fuel services company.

“It just seemed like a better gig for me to be able to make my own hours and spend more time with my family, and then it kind of sort of segued into having a lot of extra time,” he says.

To fill his newfound free time, MacLeod decided to take up hiking. “I started getting back on the trails and getting back in shape,” he says.

MacLeod, a small business owner in Dallas by way of Buffalo, New York, started out going to his local state parks, but once he realized how many there were he felt inspired to see more. “For a while there it was like, ‘Hey, we’re going to go camping every weekend,’” he says.

Sometimes MacLeod takes his family; other times he goes alone. With each new park, he gains more appreciation for the diversity of Texas.

“It’s amazing that I can go through one trail and see five different ecosystems,” he says. “I’ve never experienced that before except in Texas.” 

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Adriana Medellin

WHEN PEOPLE hear that Adrianá Medellin and her husband have four children, people typically ask, “How do you do it?”

“I always tell everybody, it takes a lot of compassion and patience,” Medellin says. “Those are the top two things you need — and not to sound cheesy, but state parks are up there on the list as well. You need a place to release the energetic chaoticness that comes with being such a big family.”

Medellin, who grew up in Eagle Pass, has fond memories of visiting parks with her father. “He loved the family tradition of taking us to state parks, and I remember we would drive far and wide to places like Big Bend or San Angelo State Park,” she says. “When I became a mother myself, I decided I was going to continue this tradition. These are beautiful, wonderful memories — not only of our wonderful state of Texas, but of closeness within the family, the love for nature and a respect for our land and the history that comes with it.”

So far, Medellin, her husband and their four children, ages 10, 15, 17 and 20, have visited 28 state parks. They especially love parks with angling opportunities. “We’re a fishing family,” she says. “We also camp a lot. I love renting out the shelters where we can still set up our tent but then we have that little shelter where we can bring all the kids in and play board games and Lotería with the family.”

Medellin records where she’s visited through scrapbooking. “I keep all the receipts of the parking, the map and pictures, and then from there I create scrapbooks for the kids for future use, to look back at memories,” she says.

Medellin’s favorite park is Lost Maples, with its beautiful riot of fall colors. She looks forward to visiting the rest. “There’s a lot of chaos out in the world, but these are the moments that we can rein it back in with tranquility, with peace, with love for the state of Texas and what it offers in state parks,” she says. “I want my kids to fully embrace the beauty of that.” 

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Johanna Blanchette and Brigitte Thompson

JOHANNA BLANCHETTE grew up in Bavaria and married an American soldier. She moved with him to Texas in 1962, and when her husband left the military, the family settled in Copperas Cove.

Blanchette, whom her family calls Oma, was always active and loved the outdoors. When her husband was alive, the couple would take their camper to state parks. The first parks she visited in Texas were Big Bend and Davis Mountains. Davis Mountains, Johanna says, made her feel at home. “It reminded me a lot of Germany there, around Alpine,” she says.

Now 83, Blanchette still loves to hike; she and her daughter Brigitte Thompson are on a mission to visit every state park in Texas, a goal sparked by the Texas State
Parks Centennial passport. “The little Texas State Parks official passport gave us the inspiration to try to get our passport stamped in as many parks as we possibly can,” Thompson says.

The mother-daughter team has now visited 17 parks, and they’ve picked up a few fans along the way.

“I started taking pictures of my mom climbing up rocks and cliff walls, and then writing about her to our friends like, ‘Hey, we just hiked seven miles,’” Thompson says.
Thompson joined a Facebook group called Girls Who Hike Texas, and began posting photos of Blanchette there as well. The group’s members loved the posts.
“She became a little celebrity,” says Thompson.

“When we were out hiking, people [started] recognizing her and came running up to her and telling she was their inspiration and they wanted to grow up to be just like her, and continue to hike like she’s doing,” Thompson says. “The first time people came up to her she was like, ‘Who are you and how do you know me?’”

Now Blanchette is more used to her fame, and Thompson still loves to take photos of her. One of the most memorable images was taken on a trip to Enchanted Rock with Blanchette’s grandchildren in tow — a late celebration trip for her 80th birthday.

“I have pictures of the whole family trailing along behind her like ants going up to the top of the mountain, and she’s standing up there in what I call the Superman pose with her hands on her hips,” says Thompson. “I’m always the last one struggling on the hike and so I’m taking these pictures and there’s our whole family following along behind her. She’s already on top of the summit, waiting for us.” 

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Blair Stewart

BLAIR STEWART moved to Texas in 2021 as an Army intelligence officer stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. In August of that year, Stewart and her husband visited Devils River State Natural Area on their first camping trip together.

“That trip was a bit misadventurous,” she says. “We had only a basic camping setup with a 40-year-old borrowed camp stove and a $10 inflatable mattress stuffed in the back of my SUV, and the summer heat was suffocating. Nevertheless, I was awestruck at the pristine beauty of the Devils River, and our experience there left me wanting to see more of what Texas had to offer.”

As soon as they got home, Stewart started planning their next state park trip. In the intervening two years, Stewart, her husband and their two dogs have hiked, biked, kayaked and swum their way around 83 parks. Stewart’s travels inspired her to learn more about Texas ecology and become involved in land stewardship. She became a Master Naturalist, and now, as her career in the military draws to a close, she’s looking for work in conservation.

“As a veteran, I’ve lived in many places,” says Stewart. “However, none of those places have ever truly felt like home until now. I think that our goal of visiting all of the state parks has contributed to my sense of place — it has nurtured my love for Texas and fostered a desire to make it my forever home.”   

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Mitchell Hagney

MITCHELL HAGNEY grew up in New Hampshire surrounded by towering pine trees and huge granite mountains. So when he moved to Texas to attend Trinity University in San Antonio, he got used to feeling taller. And, when he visited Guadalupe River State Park, the landscape was like nothing he’d ever seen before.

“The limestone cliffs really struck me as beautiful,” he says.

The experience inspired him to want to see more, so he decided to try to visit every state park in Texas.

“It’s like Pokémon,” he says, referencing the “Gotta catch ‘em all” tagline. “It’s a fun goal to motivate me to go to new places instead of keeping going to the ones that I’m already familiar with.”

Hagney loves swimming, paddling and hiking at the parks he visits, and makes a special point to appreciate the trees.
“I love finding some of the biggest or most beautiful trees at each state park,” he says. “West Texas has some really wild super-old ones, but I also fell in love with cypress trees with all the little knobs peeking out.”

Many of the state parks presented new landscapes and experiences to Hagney as a Texas transplant, but one park had the opposite effect.

“Lost Maples helped make me feel at home,” he says. “I was so used to color changes [in the fall], I was homesick when I came in and went to university down in South Texas. And so just finding a place where the trees actually change helped me feel connected again to where I come from.” 

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Bryce Wilson & Ahmad O'Neal

BRYCE WILSON didn’t grow up hiking, so when his friend from college, Ahmad O’Neal, invited him on a trip to Colorado Bend State Park, Wilson wasn’t sure what to expect.

“That was our first time hiking and being out in nature,” he says. “Neither of our families does anything like that.”
The excursion was an adventure start to finish. “We climbed up the hill and had a great view of trees and everything,” Wilson says. “And then on the way down it started raining and pouring.”

The weather cleared up again later in the trip, and the friends hiked out to Gorman Falls, Colorado Bend’s famous travertine waterfall. Wilson and O’Neal enjoyed the experience so much, they started a hiking blog on Instagram, @brothasinnature, and made a pact to visit all of Texas’ state parks.

“Now we’re just totally hooked on exploring nature,” Wilson says. “It’s a great fun way to travel to these new places. It’s really not as expensive as people think, like if you go and travel and visit a city it might be expensive, but if you travel and just go in nature, it’s [cheaper].”

Eventually, Wilson and O’Neal started visiting national parks as well, and decided to broaden their goal to visiting as many cool spots in nature as possible. The two friends might see every Texas state park someday, or they might not. At the end of the day, visiting state parks is about having fun — and that’s a goal that they accomplish with every trip. 

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Manuel Villegas & Tamara Verschoyle

TAMARA VERSCHOYLE and Manuel Villegas met by chance in Ecuador more than two decades ago, when Verschoyle was visiting a friend for a wedding. It wasn’t love at first sight. “It was kind of a clash of stars,” Villegas says.

“Neither one of us were even a little bit interested in getting into a relationship,” Verschoyle says. “I was moving to Venezuela. He was starting a new job. And we were both kind of hands-off.”

But then fate intervened — Verschoyle got a double ear infection, which caused her to miss her flight back to the U.S. “I couldn’t get another flight for weeks, so I ended up staying there for about a month,” she says. “We started dating while I was there because, you know, we were both too cool to ignore
the chemistry.”

Villegas moved to the United States from Ecuador in 2001, and the couple now lives in San Antonio, Verschoyle’s hometown.

Travel brought Verschoyle and Villegas together initially, and it still holds an important place in their relationship. In 2015, Verschoyle and Villegas took a year off from work to travel the world with their two children. Now they’ve embarked on another big adventure — visiting every state park in Texas.

“We’ve been camping together as a family since the kids were little, and the youngest was in diapers still,” says Verschoyle.

Goliad State Park and Historic Site was the first park they went to together. They came from different camping backgrounds — Villegas had a much more casual approach, while Verschoyle was used to a more structured trip — so they had some adjusting to do.

“We had to find out meeting points in the middle and manage expectations — and also keep our two kids alive,” Verschoyle says.

The couple’s two children are now 16 and 19. In 2023, Verschoyle and Villegas committed to visiting 23 parks to celebrate the centennial. The family has a few favorite parks they return to again and again — namely Goliad and Mustang Island.

“I can’t imagine having raised our kids without the park system,” Verschoyle says. “It was brilliant. I mean, it really changed the trajectory of our family… It’s just given us an opportunity to go out and be together as a family and go do things affordably and learn while doing it.”  

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Lily Cartwright

THIS MARCH, Lily Cartwright and a group of her friends drove out to Village Creek State Park. Cartwright visits parks all the time, but this trip was special — it was her 83rd Texas state park. With Village Creek under her belt, Cartwright visited every state park before she turned 30.

“We had three goals that weekend,” she says. “One was to get me to my final park. Two was to kayak somewhere, and three was to find crawfish because it was crawfish season and it’s just a sin not to get crawfish if you’re that close to Louisiana.”

As they drove away at the end of the trip, Cartwright had accomplished all three.

Cartwright started her state park journey in 2017, when her environmental engineering job required her to spend a lot of time on the road. “I started looking for other ways to kind of break up the drive instead of, you know, gas stations,” she says. “I started stopping at state parks and just going for a run through them.”

Soon she started looking forward to these detours. One of her friends, Mitchell Hagney (featured on page 37), had a goal to visit every park, so she decided to do it too. Soon she was planning state park trips outside of work for herself and her friends.

“Last year we started a full moon camping club,” she says. “Sea Rim was the first full moon camp club we had and it was beautiful. Mosquitoes? Terrible. Ocean? Amazing.”

Visiting her last park in 2023 was good timing, because Cartwright moved to Guam shortly afterward to work in disaster relief. Her goal to visit every Texas state park helped her comprehend the diversity of Texas, and she recommends the quest to anyone interested in getting to know the state better.

“I think every Texan will have their minds opened,” she says.  

CHECKLIST
OF THE PARKS

Feeling like taking on the challenge? Cut this out and hang it on your wall to check off parks as you visit them! #TexasStateParksChallenge

■ Abilene State Park

■ Atlanta State Park

■ Balmorhea State Park

■ Bastrop State Park

■ Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park

■ Big Bend Ranch State Park

■ Big Spring State Park

■ Blanco State Park

■ Bonham State Park

■ Brazos Bend State Park

■ Buescher State Park

■ Caddo Lake State Park

■ Caprock Canyons State Park

■ Cedar Hill State Park

■ Choke Canyon State Park

■ Cleburne State Park

■ Colorado Bend State Park

■ Cooper Lake State Park

■ Copper Breaks State Park

■ Daingerfield State Park

■ Davis Mountains State Park

■ Devil's Sinkhole State Natural Area

■ Devils River State Natural Area

■ Dinosaur Valley State Park

■ Eisenhower State Park

■ Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

■ Estero Llano Grande State Park

■ Falcon State Park

■ Fort Boggy State Park

■ Fort Leaton State Historic Site

■ Fort Parker State Park

■ Fort Richardson State Park
& Historic Site

■ Franklin Mountains State Park

■ Galveston Island State Park

■ Garner State Park

■ Goliad State Park & Historic Site

■ Goose Island State Park

■ Government Canyon State Natural Area

■ Guadalupe River State Park /
Honey Creek State Natural Area

■ Hill Country State Natural Area

■ Hueco Tanks State Park
& Historic Site

■ Huntsville State Park

■ Inks Lake State Park

■ Kickapoo Cavern State Park

■ Lake Arrowhead State Park

■ Lake Bob Sandlin State Park

■ Lake Brownwood State Park

■ Lake Casa Blanca International
State Park

■ Lake Colorado City State Park

■ Lake Corpus Christi State Park

■ Lake Livingston State Park

■ Lake Mineral Wells State Park
& Trailway

■ Lake Somerville State Park

■ Lake Tawakoni State Park

■ Lake Whitney State Park

■ Lockhart State Park

■ Longhorn Cavern State Park

■ Lost Maples State Natural Area

■ Lyndon B. Johnson State Park
& Historic Site

■ Martin Creek Lake State Park

■ Martin Dies, Jr. State Park

■ McKinney Falls State Park

■ Meridian State Park

■ Mission Tejas State Park

■ Monahans Sandhills State Park

■ Mother Neff State Park

■ Mustang Island State Park

■ Old Tunnel State Park

■ Palmetto State Park

■ Palo Duro Canyon State Park

■ Pedernales Falls State Park

■ Possum Kingdom State Park

■ Purtis Creek State Park

■ Ray Roberts Lake State Park

■ Resaca de la Palma State Park

■ San Angelo State Park

■ Sea Rim State Park

■ Seminole Canyon State Park
& Historic Site

■ Sheldon Lake State Park &
Environmental Learning Center

■ South Llano River State Park

■ Stephen F. Austin State Park

■ Tyler State Park

■ Village Creek State Park

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