Marshfield Woman Visits Every Wisconsin State Park in 2021

dana visits every wisconsin state park
Dana Speth of Marshfield stands next to the Big Foot Beach State Park sign. The park was one of the 49 different parks Speth visited in 2021. Submitted Photo.

Woman Visits All of Wisconsin’s State Parks

MARSHFIELD, WI (OnFocus) – Marshfield native Dana Speth got a healthy dose of the outdoors as she spent 2021 visiting all 49 Wisconsin State Parks.

In just under 10 months, Speth visited all corners of Wisconsin to view the parks and create memories. From the shores of Lake Superior, to Door County and Madison, her journey led her to a variety of different layouts and sceneries that the Wisconsin State Parks have to offer.

Her quest to visit all of the parks began on Jan. 2, 2021 at Merrick and Perrot State Parks, and finished on October 30 at Big Foot Beach State Park. In that time frame, Dana visited two of those parks (Rib Mountain and Peninsula) twice. In late November, Speth also went to Devil’s Lake a second time.

Speth didn’t just wake up and want to go to all of the state parks. Her motivation came from her love for the outdoors and a unique social media post.

“I am in a State Park group on Facebook where people post photos and ask questions,” Speth said. “Someone on there had made it their goal in 2020 to visit all the State Parks since a lot of things were closed or cancelled. It sounded like an intriguing goal. I had always thought about trying to one day get to all the parks. Many of them looked interesting. I knew Wisconsin had a lot to offer in terms of different landscapes and scenery and wanted to see more of it.”

Growing up, Speth’s passion for the outdoors came at an early age. Her family and especially her dad fueled her love for the outdoors as they went on camping trips, up north to Dana’s grandparents’ cabin, and walking through the woods looking for deer antlers or other signs of animal activity.

Speth said her interest in state parks is kind of unexplained but she enjoys them nonetheless.

“I’m not sure when I really became interested in State Parks in particular,” Speth said. “We camped as a family when I was younger at a few of them. I specifically remember going to Peninsula and Governor Dodge. I think my current interest in them started in 2017 when I was done with school and actually had money and a reliable car to travel with. I had always enjoyed going to parks when we were on vacation. It was Christmas that year that my mom got me my first State Park pass. It’s become an annual present now.”

The trip itself involved trips to all over the state so careful planning and dedication were key, according to Speth.

“It took quite a bit of planning,” Speth said. “In the beginning of the year I printed out maps of all the parks and grouped them according to proximity. Many of them are actually quite close to each other. If I was going to do a three hour drive, I was going to make it worth it.”

Speth had to make sure that she was doing this for a reason and so she set a few rules for her visits that would ensure that she would remember the parks and spend time there. Her first rule was she had to get a picture of the park sign and the second was she had to do something while at the park (not just drive through to say she went there). A lot of the parks have hiking trails so she used those as a way to spend time at the parks.

Even though it is a passion of Speth’s, there were times where she felt like quitting. She said her family was essential in keeping her going.

“I actually got close to quitting a few times, but had several family members and friends who were determined that I was going to make it,” Speth said. “They were almost more invested in it than I was. That kept me going.”

June and October weekends and vacations were dedicated to reaching multiple parks. In June, she visited ten parks while taking a week off of work.

“I did a big push in June when I took a week off and hit up ten parks,” Speth said. “I camped at Governor Dodge three nights and Wyalusing one night to make it happen. It was a lot of driving and I was very tired and a bit cranky by the end of it, but many of the parks in the southwest part of the state are quite small and require less than an hour to see so it was the most efficient way.”

Normal trips to visit out-of-town families became trips to cross off a park from her list at the same time.

“‘While we’re in the area…..’ became a bit of a joke in the family because every time we were planning any sort of trip, I would try to tack on a park,” Speth said. “A drive to an anniversary party became an opportunity to go to Wildcat Mountain and New Glarus Woods. Tickets to a Van Gogh exhibit in Milwaukee meant a chance to go to Lakeshore.”

One of the more challenging aspects of the task was trying to figure out how to get to Rock Island. To get to the island, visitors have to go to the tip of Door County, take a ferry to Washington Island, travel to the far side of that island, and then take a second ferry to Rock Island. The ferries only run until October so Speth had to ensure that she was going to get there before the ferries closed.

As the year wound down, Speth still had ten parks to explore in late September. She was able to see all ten, traveling over 1,200 miles in the process, in the month of October and completed her task.

Speth said she couldn’t pick a favorite park but she did however offer up some suggestions for future park-goers.

“It is really difficult to pick a favorite,” Speth said. “I loved any of the ones on the Great Lakes. I love the Great Lakes. Peninsula may be my favorite, at least in the summer. I camp there every year. There is so much to do there in terms of biking, swimming, hiking, kayaking.

“Big Bay is beautiful and quiet, as is Rock Island. The dunes at Koehler Andrae are fun to hike along, especially since you can walk back along the beach and cool off in the water.

“Whitefish Dunes on the Lake Michigan side of Door County is probably my favorite in the winter when there are ice formations along the cliffs. I’ve also been there on really windy days when the waves are huge and splash up and over the rocks.

“I also like Perrot and Devil’s Lake because they have huge bluffs you can hike up. It makes for a really hard hike, but the views are amazing and you really feel like you accomplished something.”

For a full list of parks, go to https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/parks/findapark.

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Neal Hogden
Author: Neal Hogden