09.18.2017People

Ken Burns effect

By: Olivia Paladino
Skagway park

Ken Burns effect

National Park Service celebrated its 100th birthday last year, just as Dan Elias completed his personal odyssey – to visit all 411 U.S. national parks, monuments, memorials and sites. 

Dan is a history lover and has been ever since college when he caught "The Civil War" series by Ken Burns on PBS. From there, it didn’t take long before he was trading in his spring break ticket to Cancun for a chance to visit Shiloh, Tenn. and Vicksburg, Miss. “I love learning about history, the people, the sacrifice, what really made this nation great,” said Dan. 

I love learning about history, the people, the sacrifice, what really made this nation great.

Planes, trains, automobiles (and boats)

It was a wedding in California that provided the opportunity for Dan to start his voyage west. After that trip, he challenged himself to see as many sites as possible. His journey took 24 years to complete as he traveled to all 50 states as well as several U.S. territories along the way. While each site has a special place in his heart, the Clara Barton National Historic Site (where he's been a volunteer for 20 years) and Yellowstone National Park are among his favorites.

Ken Burns with his wife Mary at Yellowstone National Park

A love affair

Luckily, Dan’s wife Mary is a passionate supporter of his mission. Their Hawaiian honeymoon included visits to seven sites across four islands, including a visit to Kalaupapa, a historic leper colony. Dan and Mary also always make it a point to share their travel experiences with loved ones.  “Mary likes taking pictures—very beautiful ones or very funny ones—and sends them to our friends and family back home,” said Dan.

Ken Burns at North Cascades

Now and then

It’s been one year since Dan marked the end of his voyage with his final stop at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC. I asked him what he has been up to since then and he told me he completed visits to all of the newer national park sites, which include Harriet Tubman’s home in upstate New York and a Freedom Riders site in Alabama. “By coincidence, there were people at both of these sites who recognized me from my quest last year,” he said.  

While we were talking, it occurred to me that he might have crossed paths with Dr. Peter Newman in one way or another while visiting one of the parks.  Peter is the Department Head of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management at Penn State and also loves and frequents national parks.   Dan had not met Peter, so I introduced them just as Peter was returning from a few weeks trip in Denali National Park where he was studying the impact of sound on the environment. Peter and his team work closely with the National Park Service to improve the experience of travelers, like Dan, who yearn to hear the beautiful, natural sounds these places have to offer.  

Dan, a product manager and 20-year veteran of Verizon, ended up finding a lot in common with Peter. Not only is Dan a Penn State University graduate, both Peter and he are proud members of The 30% Club – those who have seen Mount McKinley despite its almost constant cloud cover.  

Read about the work Dr. Peter Newman and his graduate students were doing this summer. 

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About the author(s): 

Olivia Paladino works on storytelling for the Verizon communications team. Her background includes digital marketing and communications.