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Valley News Dispatch

For Washington Township man, something 'around every bend' at national parks

Mary Ann Thomas
| Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017, 11:15 p.m.
Glenn Davis at Theodore Roosevelt Park in North Dakota.
Courtesy of Glenn Davis
Glenn Davis at Theodore Roosevelt Park in North Dakota.
Glenn Davis of Washington Township took this photo of Elk feeding on a mountainside in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.
Courtesy of Glenn Davis
Glenn Davis of Washington Township took this photo of Elk feeding on a mountainside in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.
A few of the patches Glenn Davis collected at each of the nation's 59 national parks.
Courtsey of Glenn Davis
A few of the patches Glenn Davis collected at each of the nation's 59 national parks.
Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.
Courtesy of Glenn Davis
Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.
The National Park Service presented Glenn Davis with a certificate, officially recognizing him as a '59er' for visiting all of the nation's 59 national parks.
Courtesy of Glenn Davis
The National Park Service presented Glenn Davis with a certificate, officially recognizing him as a '59er' for visiting all of the nation's 59 national parks.
Glenn Davis of Washington Township took this photo of a brown bear fishing for salmon at Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska.
Courtesy of Glenn Davis
Glenn Davis of Washington Township took this photo of a brown bear fishing for salmon at Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska.

Brown bears, redwoods and king salmon go together for Glenn Davis, who reached the milestone of visiting all of America's 59 national parks.

Known as a “59er,” Davis, 70, a retired engineer from Washington Township, closed out the list of national parks this summer at Kobuck Valley National Park in Alaska.

The achievement is apparent just by looking at Davis — if he is wearing his denim jacket, studded with patches from many of the parks.

“I'm out of room. I need a new jacket,” David said, looking at more than 20 more park patches displayed on his coffee table.

He's on his second park-patch jacket, which has become an iconic part of his wardrobe, according to his daughter.

“Growing up, I thought that's what everybody did for vacations — going to a national park,” said daughter Kathy Sankey of Green Tree.

“I think my dad is amazing and his great accomplishment gives him the opportunity to share all of these great places with people who don't know about some of these places,” she said.

More interesting than the jacket, though, are Davis' tales, especially about park destinations not so well-known. He calls those his “sleeper” list.

While the Arches and Canyonlands are much-beloved national parks in Utah, travelers might want to consider Capitol Reef National Park in Utah instead, Davis said.

“You have a lot of the same kind of scenery and wonderful hikes you'd find in the other parks, but it doesn't have all the crowds,” he said.

“There is something to see around every bend,” Davis promises.

His favorite spot is known as “the wall,” where people for centuries have been writing on a rock face, including cowboys, who inscribed their names with a flurry of bullet holes.

Then there is Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.

“There are herds of bison, elk and wild horses, and there are more hawks than you can shake a stick at,” Davis said.

“If this was in Pennsylvania, there would be lines 5 miles long to get in,” he said.

Why visit all the parks?

His odyssey was inspired by more than wanderlust. Credit grief and the primal need to keep going. Davis retired early from MSA Co. at the age of 55 and was concerned about his prospects.

“I noticed people who retire and sit on the porch were dead in nine months,” he said. “I needed to come up with a goal or quest or something to do.”

He was always outdoorsy and interested in nature.

Davis is as a volunteer naturalist for the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania at Beechwood Farms in Fox Chapel.

Although Davis visited the national parks over a 30-year period, his pursuit began in earnest after his wife died of cancer.

Davis' hiking companion, Donna Billings, 76, of McCandless, explained, “When Glenn's wife died, he needed something else to do.”

Billings met Davis on the internet and the two struck up a friendship quickly, as Billings is an avid hiker and mountain climber, who several years ago wrote the book “Red and Purple Hiking Boots: An Older Woman's Trek to ‘It's Never Too Late.' ”

Davis and Billings have traveled to national parks in Alaska and American Samoa in the South Pacific.

“Now, it's more fun traveling with someone,” he said, “it's nice to hit someone on the elbow and say, ‘Look at that beautiful rainbow.' ”

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4691, mthomas@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MaThomas_Trib.

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