By Blake Bacho,
Jim and Cheri Maitland of Jackson, and their two children, were honored this week during a fundraiser event for the River Raisin National Battlefield Park Foundation.
Jim and Cheri Maitland wanted to give back to the national park system.
But the Jackson natives — who made national headlines this past December by becoming the first family to visit each of the United States’ 418 national parks and units and earn every available Junior Ranger badge — had originally intended to volunteer at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Then in the early 2010s, the River Raisin National Battlefield Park was officially recognized as a national park unit. “It’s only an hour and a half from us,” Cheri said. “We decided (to go there to volunteer) because they were the closest. But we knew nothing about the River Raisin, we just went over there and said ′ We’d like to volunteer…′ ”(Supt.) Scott Bentley was the first person we met. He sucked us in like a vacuum and dust. It’s the people. I have to tell you that we truly feel like we’re Monroe residents. We really feel at home and we love the people that are there.”
Jim, Cheri, their daughter, Jamison, and son Gerald were honored during the River Raisin National Battlefield Park Foundation’s Back to the Future fundraiser held Thursday night.
Officials held the event to announce details on its multi- million dollar River Raisin Heritage Corridor plan to revamp the new Battlefield Education Center. Specifics were not available by press time, but will be provided in an upcoming edition of The Monroe News.
“John Dingell loved this battlefield,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell who attended the event. “He loved this place, he loved the outdoors. This place was his dream.
“Thank you for the dream that all of you had … It’s a vision, preserving our history and preserving our outdoors.”
As the event’s guests of honor, the Maitlands spoke about their journey, which began with a simple desire to glean as much history as possible from the nation’s historic parks and ended with them breaking three records and logging hundreds of thousands of miles over their eight-year, crosscountry quest. Somehow the family also found the time to log thousands of hours as volunteers in Monroe.
“I’m a horticulturist,” Cheri explained. “And when they realized that I could actually help, they were like ‘Come on over’. (Jim) can build a shopping mall with a toothpick and a knife, and when they saw he had all this equipment, we were family.”
Jim added that one of the things he and his family appreciate about the battlefield is that it recognizes all the sides of the War of 1812.
“Now they’re trying to show why these things happened and what caused them,” he said. “That’s what’s great about the national parks.”
In addition to speaking about their experiences, the Maitlands received a congressional letter from U. S. Sen. Gary Peters, recognizing them as the first family to visit all the national parks and units. Gerald was also recognized as being the youngest person to ever accomplish this feat.
“Your thousands of hours of volunteering is a testament to your dedication to our national parks,” said Peters in the letter.
Though he could not attend the event, U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg also offered remarks to the Maitland family through a pre-recorded video.
“I share the love of the outdoors and especially our national parks,” Walberg said. “Thanks for being a motor for the River Raisin National Battlefield Park Foundation.”
Jim and Cheri said they never sought out to make headlines, or cultivate a social media following. Their favorite part of their nearly decade-long journey was the time they spent bonding with their teenage children.
But even though they’ve been all across the country, including trips to Hawaii and Alaska, they say the sights of their home state still can’t be beat.
And even though they love Jackson, the Maitlands have found a second home in Monroe.
“The people of Monroe love their city, they love their story,” Cheri said. “I love Jackson, don’t get me wrong, but there is something special about Monroe.”
Monroe News reporter Caitlin Taylor also contributed to this report.