"As far as I can remember, it all started in 2016," said Marilyn Tate as she sat in her cozy sunny kitchen surrounded by Colorado state park memorabilia. In June 2016 the Hotchkiss resident was planning to visit her daughter Carol in Buena Vista. Carol suggested a trip to Eleven Mile State Park and, when Marilyn learned that three state parks were clustered together near her daughter's home, she drove not only to Eleven Mile but also to Mueller and Spinney Mountain. Those trips did it and suddenly it was three-down and 39 to go.
"I got the bug at Eleven Mile," said Marilyn, "and I just thought wouldn't it be fun to visit all the state parks." It seemed a natural ambition for a woman who's a history buff and loves to travel. Marilyn is constantly exploring Colorado and she often takes her children along on her adventures. She has four daughters and one son: Carol lives in Buena Vista, Susan is in Hotchkiss, Nancy's in Paonia, Julie's in Eagle, and Larry was in Colorado Springs for years before he retired from teaching and moved to Florida.
When Marilyn started out on her quest, there were 42 state parks. That number was reduced to 41 when San Luis Lakes State Park was converted to a state wildlife area. To visit San Luis Lakes, Marilyn had to travel to south-central Colorado near the New Mexico border and she got there just three days before the conversion.
"Just about missed that one," she smiled.
The Colorado state parks are fee areas requiring a daily entrance charge or purchase of a yearly sticker. In addition to dutifully paying the fee, Marilyn also took advantage of a state park pass that can be checked out without cost from the Delta County Libraries. Anyone with a Delta County Libraries card can do the same.
"Visiting the parks is a great adventure," she said, "and one that I advise people to do, especially families. I hope my visits will inspire others to get out there and do it."
It was fairly easy for Marilyn to bag the state parks close to home. Crawford, Ridgway, and Paonia are all nearby as is Delta's Sweitzer Lake State Park and a handful of parks adjacent to Grand Junction. Some parks were more challenging to reach. It took a trip to Iowa and some careful map reading to hit North Sterling State Park which is located far away in Colorado's northeastern corner. An ambitious two-day jaunt in September 2016 allowed her to add more than a dozen state parks to her list. With her daughters along for the ride, the family drove north of Interstate 70 in a marathon road trip in order to reach 14 parks from Rifle Gap to Lory.
Does she have a favorite state park?
"They're all so different," she said. "I don't think I can pick a favorite. They're all unique. Some large, some small, some urban, some rural, some wet, and some dry. Each one has something to offer in the way of recreation."
At each location, Marilyn took a photo of the park sign and then she toured the area and stopped by the visitor center for an orientation and to pick up brochures. Her final photograph, taken on May 8, 2018, shows her smiling in a 'hooray' pose at the entrance to park number 42: Lake Pueblo. She has compiled her park adventures into an alphabetized notebook and she has added that completed book to her other mementos.
Marilyn is a self-described "outdoors-woman" who loves to be outside. She can often be found in the Kebler Pass area car-camping and making coffee on her one-burner camp stove. When not on the road, her hobbies include collecting things and she loves sharing information about her treasures. She has a wide assortment of vintage Kraft "swanky swig" cheese jars featuring beautifully etched designs from the 1950s. (She pretty much has them all including some from Canada.) She also collects local fruit packing labels. (She specializes in Paonia growers and she's on the lookout for an old "Red Robin" label.) Plus she's compiled a book of photographs and captions describing the region's historic one-room schoolhouses. Many of these rural structures have disappeared but some are still standing in sites ranging from the Muddy to Redlands Mesa and Crawford.
Marilyn was born and raised in Paonia before moving to Crawford and finally to Hotchkiss where she has lived for 60-plus years. The brick house that her grandfather built near Paonia in 1905 is still standing. Her father was born in that house and one of the old schoolhouses in her "Schools Then and Now" photo collection once stood on the acreage surrounding the house. She is a member of the Hotchkiss-Crawford Historical Society. She also served for 18 years on the Hotchkiss Town Council.
What's next for the traveling collector? She's visited every state in the nation but she prefers traveling around the West. She just got back from riding a vintage train in Leadville and she'll soon be on her way to a college football game in Laramie, Wyo.
"Anytime anybody says to me 'let's go,' I do," she laughed. And the adventurous woman has the memorabilia and the memories to prove it.