By MARK EVANS
Someone who is becoming a celebrity within the National Park System (NPS) visited the Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park on Dec. 29.
Aida Frey, known as the “Sweetheart of the National Parks,” is the most decorated member of the NPS’s Junior Ranger program.
The local park was the 345th park she has visited, out of 423.
An 18-year-old high school senior in Chicago, Frey travels by car with her parents, Shawn and Norma Frey.
The Freys were impressed with the town.
“I thought it was really pretty, driving in here,” Aida Frey said. “We’re from Chicago, so we don’t see towns like this.
“It seems like a really unique town that I want to explore.”
Shawn Frey said the decision to visit Ste. Genevieve was “a last-second thing.” He added that they never fly to any of the locations.
“You see more things when you drive,” he said. While national parks are their intended destinations each trip, they don’t hesitate to pull off the road and check out other interesting sites. One they happened upon was the Gen. John J. Pershing Boyhood Home in Laclede, Missouri.
Aida Frey has been involved in the NPS Junior Ranger program for 10 years, averaging about 35 national parks per year.
She explained how the program works and how she earns her badges.
“I visit national parks. When I visit, I get a Junior Ranger booklet,” she said. “And, in the booklet, it asks me questions about the park. When I’m done filling out the booklet, I get a badge.”
She said it is available at nearly all national parks. The Ste. Genevieve venue has not started the program yet. Frey said she will need to come back this summer to officially get her badge for the park.
The teen has actually published a book about her trips, America, Can I Have Your Autograph?: The Story of Junior Ranger Aida Frey.
Frey visited town wearing her badge vest, lined with badges she has won all along the front and back of the vest.
Among the badges was one from the Cane River Creole National historical Park in Natchitoches, Louisiana, commemorating her 300th park visited. Another is a special pen on her Junior Ranger cap, presented by Jonathan B. Jarvis, then the national director of the NPS.