For many participants in this year's Park Quest, the summer of 2011 presented its own set of challenges aside from coordinating a family's weekends and vacations.
Even a hurricane.
Yet that didn't deter some 250 families of the 1,000 who signed up for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources program from doing activities at at least 10 of the state parks, which was needed to qualify for Park Quest's end-of-year celebration Saturday at Gunpowder Falls State Park in Chase.
"It was hard this year because of the weather," said Paul LaCasse of Newmarket, who visited 11 of the parks with his wife, Joy, and their two children, 5-year old Lucien and 7-year old Abigail.. "With all the rain and then the hot weather, everything got mushy and the bugs came out."
But as little Lucien said, they enjoyed it "because it's a family activity."
A total of 26 teams made it to all 24 of the state parks.
Melissa Chaney of Jarretsville, along with husband Craig and their four kids, ranging in age from 3 to 10, went to each of the state parks for the second straight year. In fact, they started on the very first day (May 7) and finished it in early August, a month ahead of last year.
"We're a team," Chaney said as she pulled out her a folder from a very organized Park Quest backpack. "Every one [of the activities] we did, we got a little bit better than we were last year."
Lesley Witt of Frederick learned this spring of the free, four-year-old program from a friend and enlisted her husband, Maurice, and their three children, ages 10, 11 and 14.
"I was fine stopping at around 20 [parks], but he wanted to keep going," she said, pointing to her husband.
Nearly 200 families who qualified for the giveaways showed up Saturday for the festivities, and even those who walked away empty-handed seemed fulfilled by what they and what their children had received through Park Quest. Prizes included ski trips, fishing trips, camping trips and Teva footware.
Joy LaCasse said her family's favorite activity was learning how to measure wind speed at Assateague State Park a few weeks before Hurricane Irene hit the East Coast.
"We were watching the weather guy [on TV] measuring the wind, and everyone's yelling, 'We did that, we did that!' " she said.
Lt. Gary Adelhardt, the Maryland State Park Ranger who helped organize the Park Quest program after seeing a presentation by a group from New England at a conference — minus the educational component offered in Maryland — said interest continues to grow despite the fact that donations for the giveaways were a bit down this year because of the economy.
Despite not having a marketing campaign, it took a little more than a day for the 1,000 families requested to sign up, an increase from 750 last year. The 26 families who made it to every park was 10 more than last year.
"I've heard a lot of people say, 'I lived right near one of the parks and I didn't know it was there,'" Adelhardt said. "It creates opportunties for families to do things together outside."