When Tina Thompson knelt at her husband’s grave this spring, she made a promise to the man she loved.
She vowed to follow in the couple’s footsteps, and complete the Missouri State Parks Passport challenge, much the same as they had 11 years earlier.
Those were great times, providing a lifetime of memories for Tina and her husband, Chris. They saw true Missouri, from the rolling hills of the northern part of the state to river country to the beauty of the Ozarks.
They visited each of Missouri’s state parks and historic sites in two years, 2005 and 2006.
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Now, she is determined to bring back those days, in spirit at least. She again is on a mission to complete the Passport, visiting each of Missouri’s 88 state parks and historic sites.
“This isn’t about me; this is about Chris,” said Thompson, 55, of Belton. “This is a tribute to him.
“I know he would be happy. Visiting the state parks and learning about our state, that was a passion of his.
“It was something we shared. Now I feel like he is with me as I do this again.”
Tina’s trip started in April, when she visited Chris’ burial site in a military cemetery near Higginsville, Mo. She figured it was a fitting place for a true lover of the outdoors to be buried. It was in the country and surrounded by green, rolling hills. And it was adjacent to the Confederate Memorial State Historic Site.
After visiting the grave site, Tina toured the state park and learned that the Passport program was being revived. There, she got her first stamp —and the journey began.
On Thursday, she was at Watkins Mill State Park in Clay County, walking the hiking trails and relaxing in the shade, much the same as she and her husband had years ago.
It brought back great memories of the days she and Chris camped and hiked at the park. They walked the trail that crossed the lake, they camped in the shade, fixed meals over a campfire and toured the historic site, including the old mill, a church and the old house.
Now those photos are part of a scrapbook that the couple put together, providing memories of each of the state parks and historic sites they visited.
“When I met Chris, we quickly realized that we had a lot in common,” Tina said. “We both enjoyed pretty much the same things — history, travel, exploring, camping and the outdoors. It was awesome.”
In early spring of 2005, Tina tagged along with Chris on one of his business trips and they explored the Smoky Mountains. And they knew right away they were made for each other.
“Neither of our ex-spouses liked to travel that much, so we hit it off right away,” Tina said.
When they made plans to pursue the Missouri State Parks and Historic Sites Passport, they put together an ambitious travel plan. They got their first stamp on June 3, 2005, at Lake of the Ozarks State Park. They got their last one on Oct. 28, 2006, at Crowder State Park in north-central Missouri.
They continued to camp and visit the state parks until Chris passed away. For Tina, such travels have been a part of her lifetime lifestyle.
She remembers camping with her mom and dad when she was just a kid, staying in a canvas army tent that was prone to fall in.
“It wasn’t much, but we had some great times,” Tina said.
The family eventually graduated to a tent trailer, and there were plenty of adventures there, too.
“In the ’70s, we were camping at Pomona (in eastern Kansas) when a tornado hit,” she said. “We were in our camper when it hit and the winds just destroyed it.
“But somehow, we were OK.”
Today, Tina’s family is still passionate about camping. Her mom, Marcia Bettendorf, is 78, but she still sleeps on a cot in her son’s tent. That son, Bobby, “has about everything that Coleman has ever made,” Tina joked. Tina’s sister, Tammy, also enjoys camping with family.
They will be Tina’s support group as she travels Missouri in pursuit of her passport. She has checked eight state parks and historic sites off her list so far. She has until Oct. 31, 2017, to complete it.
“She looks forward to revisiting some of her favorite state parks, including Meramec, Roaring River and Bennett Spring. She plans to use her tent camper for overnight stays, but will just make day trips to some of the sites.
“That’s how my vacation days and weekends will be spent,” Tina said. “I’ll be traveling.
“My family will be with me part of the time, but I’ll be by myself on some of the trips. That’s OK.
“This is about Chris.”
Brent Frazee: @fishboybrent
A passport to the Missouri outdoors
▪ WHAT: The Centennial Passport is a program established by Missouri State Parks to celebrate its 100-year anniversary. The park system was officially launched on April 9, 1917, and now includes 88 state parks and historic sites. Participants must visit each of the sites and get a stamp at each to complete the passport challenge.
▪ HOW TO START: A list of state parks and historic sites is on the Missouri State Parks website, mostateparks.com.
▪ THE PASSPORT BOOK: Buy a printed passport book for $5 online at mostateparks.com/shop/passport.html or at a state park or historic site. Participants must obtain a stamp from each of the sites by Oct. 31, 2017.
▪ ONLINE PASSPORTS: A digital passport is available free by registering at passport.mostateparks.com. Participants must receive a code from each of the state parks and historic sites to enter.
▪ INCENTIVES: The first 1,000 participants to complete the passport will receive a Missouri State Park Centennial backpack sponsored by Bass Pro Shops. All participants who complete the passport will be entered into a drawing for one of five Missouri State Parks vacation packages
▪ ATTENDANCE: Missouri state parks attracted 19.205 million visitors in 2015, a 3.43 percent increase from 2014.
▪ POPULARITY CONTEST: Lake of the Ozarks State Park led the state in attendance last year with 2,413,205 visitors. Sam A. Baker State Park ranked second with 1,152,702 and Table Rock State Park was third with 1,065,805.