Quest to conquer

Troop 120 completes second trip to reach 120 national state parks

Troop 120 stops for a quick pic at national state park Black MoShannon during its second trip to visit the 120 national state parks in Pennsylvania. PHOTO COURTESY JODI BRABAZON

By Melissa Komar

If visiting 25 parks two years ago seems dizzying, Troop 120’s trip this summer can be chalked up as the speed dating of national state parks.

The Bridesburg bunch boarded a 15-passenger van and visited 46 national state parks.

In nine days.

“It was a whirlwind,” said Jodi Brabazon, assistant scoutmaster. “It was crazy. The last Saturday before we came home, we visited 10 parks. Ten parks in one day. It was crazy.”

Visiting 10 parks in one day isn’t the only astonishing number from the troop’s trip.

The group racked more than 2,000 miles traveled and sometimes was on the road for more than 12 hours.

This summer’s road trip and the first one in 2016 — the troop visited 25 — are part of Scoutmaster Bob Gizinski’s brainchild to have members of Troop 120 visit all 120 state national parks before attaining Eagle Scout.

While the troop was on a camping trip at Fort Washington State Park, Gizinski was looking over a map early in the morning and noticed there were 120 state parks in Pennsylvania.

“And, we’re Troop 120 and a little light bulb went off and I thought it sounded like a good idea,” he said. “Everywhere I go, I talk to the older guys who were in Scouts and they all have a story about their scouting experience. What’s a better story than seeing all 120 state parks in the state of PA while you’re with Troop 120?”

Speed dating may be an understatement when describing Troop 120’s trip.

On any given day, the eight scouts and three leaders, including Gizinski, Brabazon and committee member Pat Voros, would visit two to 10 parks.

Each stop included a group picture in front of the park’s official sign.

“We’d go to each park, drive up to each sign, all of us would jump out and get a picture, jump back in the van, go to the park office, get stamps and maps of the park, and see if there was anything ‘Wow’ we should stop and see, and then hop back in the van and go to the next park,” said Brabazon, laughing.

The troop may spend minutes or hours at a park, depending on the sights and the Scouts’ appetites.

“If we were cooking, we would spend a few hours at the park,” Brabazon said. “We were doing foil packets and they took a while to cook.”

Foil packets were just one thought-out amenity to make the fast-paced trip go as smoothly as possible.

“You take all your ingredients and seasoning and put it in the foil and put it on the grill,” Brabazon said. “It alleviates us having to pull out a stove, cookware, have to clean up. All the state parks have grills. We just brought charcoal, lighter fluid and food.”

And, the packets cut down on junk food.

“It’s better than most fast-food restaurants. It’s a lot healthier and it’s all fresh ingredients,” said Jimmy Davis, 15, who has been a Scout for four years.

Davis participated in the first trip and the difference was leaps and bounds.

“This trip was definitely longer. It was fast-paced, you’re moving around a lot and you’re in a van for more than nine hours a day,” he said. “We did a lot more during the days than we did the last trip. We hopped from park to park, at lunch at one park, and got in a lot of fishing.”

Brabazon was the lucky driver the day the troop visited 10 parks.

“It was crazy because we went from here in Bridesburg, out to Harrisburg and the Pittsburgh area, then we went to Lake Erie, then we came back over to the middle of upper Pennsylvania,” she said. “And, it’s very hilly. So, it’s up the mountain, down the mountain, up the mountain, down the mountain, around the mountain. It was crazy, but it was amazing.”

And, Brabazon was the fortunate one to be behind the wheel when the tank read 20 miles to empty.

“We hadn’t seen a gas station in awhile and I was kinda panicking,” she said, laughing. “We got down to 5 miles to empty. And, the boys were counting down. And, it literally went to 0 miles to empty and we found a gas station a half mile away. So, gas stations were a premium.”

While the drive to get to each park may have been long and gas in short supply, the rewards were overwhelming.

Being in a van together for the better part of each day gave the Scouts a chance to get closer, according to Davis.

Aside from spending time together in the van, catching catfish together into the early hours of morning was one of the best parts of the trip, Davis said.

Scouts from Troop 120 climb the ruins of Kinzua Viaduct at Kinzua Bridge State Park. The original bridge was partially wiped out by a tornado in 2003. PHOTO: JODI BRABAZON

“We saw a lot of amazing views. We saw one of the first commercial oil rigs at Oil Creek State Park, a bridge that was almost as high as the Statue of Liberty, and we saw ducks walking on fish’s backs,” Gizinski said. “At the big spillway on one of the lakes, they raise carps. And, they were massive and there were hundreds of them. So, we were throwing tortilla shells to them to eat. And, the ducks come over and stand on the fish’s backs because they want to eat, too.”

Last year, one of the quirky highlights was a park with a “pothole,” the large swimming hole with a waterfall at Archbald Pothole State Park. This year, it was the horseshoe.

“There was one park, it was called Prouty Place. It was literally a horseshoe,” Brabazon said. “There was a horseshoe-shaped driveway. And, a picnic bench. So we drove in and continued around and then we were out of the park.”

Visiting 46 parks in nine days means the troop never set up shop for an extended period of time.

The troop would move and set up camp nearly every day.

“Every night, we set up camp and then we got up in the morning, ate cereal, packed our tents up, threw everything in the trailer and left,” Brabazon said. “And, we were done at that camp. And then we would visit a state park and set up camp there. We did that for six nights.”

Cramming all their supplies and themselves in the rented 15-passenger bus was an experience in itself.

“The boys are singing and talking,” Brabazon said. “We really had no issues with, ‘Are we there yet,’ or, ‘I want to drive the van.’ They all went with the flow.”

While complaints may have been few, odors were high.

“Being in a van that long, it starts smelling like feet after a while, but you just have fun,” said Gizinski, laughing. “The kids were in the back singing without the radio. It was a fun trip.”

After the trip in 2016, the troop looked into purchasing a bus, but yearly insurance costs were not feasible. The troop is now considering purchasing a 15-passenger van, but just like the first time up and down the mountain, Slabinski Funeral Home covered the cost of the rental van for the trip this summer. F&A.M. of Pennsylvania, University Lodge #51 and Gary Dydak Realty donated toward the cost of the trip, too.

“Mr. Slabinski is a great supporter of the Scouts,” Gizinski said. “And, so is all of Bridesburg. The business association and all the support we get in the neighborhood is definitely helpful.”

To document the troop’s quest to visit 120 parks, Gizinski and Brabazon plan to present a handmade passport book stamped at each park visited to each Scout who makes Eagle Scout.

Besides having a book to recall the parks, the leaders hope to leave lasting stories that can be passed down for generations, from a rattlesnake in the middle of the road, to eating walking tacos at midnight.

Meanwhile, the troop has plenty of time to gear up for its next big trip.

With 71 parks down, Troop 120 will hit the road again in summer 2020 to check off the remaining 49 parks and return to the national state park speed dating scene.

Boy Scouts of America Troop 120 meets on Tuesday nights, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at St. John Cantius, 4415 Almond St. Boys ages 11 to 17 are welcome.