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Collecting National Park T-Shirts: The Passion and the Pain


This is one of my favorites. How could I ever kill it?

“Ernie, you are my best friend in this world, and I will gladly give you the shirt off my back – unless, of course, it happens to be a national park tee.”

When I enter a national park visitor center, my feet automatically take me to the gift shop or bookstore. That’s where the national park T-shirts are. I simply cannot resist buying national park tees. I wear them as often as I can, too. It’s an addiction. There, I’ve admitted it. I’m feeling better already.

National park T-shirts aren’t like those other park souvenirs gathering dust on the shelf or stowed away in some forgotten shoebox. You wear them, and that makes all the difference. When you put on a national park tee, it doesn’t just trigger fond memories. It helps you relate to the world. Wear one on the trail, in the mall, or at the cookout and it tells others where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and what sort of person you are. Total strangers become new friends as they tell you their “I’ve been there too” stories.

I have a great big dresser drawer chock-full of neatly folded national park tees. This is my working inventory. There are more national park tees in my closet, at least one or two in the trunk of my car, and some others in the barracks bag I tote along on hunting trips. Out in the garage is a rag bag holding the remains of tees too ratty to wear.

Don’t look for national park tees in my laundry. Washing fades them, so I avoid that as much as possible. I’ve learned that a tee can be worn for at least three days before it ripens. (Since I sometimes lose the count, you might want to stand upwind from me like my friends and relatives do.) A tee that isn’t washed too often should last for years and years.

This brings me to the issue at hand. Summer is over here in the South Carolina, and so is the T-shirt season. We’ve had our first frost, and as winter draws near I can no longer ignore the fact that it’s time to clean out my T-shirt drawer. That space is needed for the lightweight sweaters and sweatshirts one must wear during the Palmetto state’s sissy winter. The tees will have to be moved to storage and rested until next April.

Alas, not all of my tees will get a well deserved rest. Some will have to be culled. Just as the clock ticks down for thee and me from the day we are born, a tee gets closer to the rag bag every day from the time it is made. Even tees that haven’t been foolishly washed too often will eventually fade from exposure to sunlight and the elements. Even venerable tees that have provided many years of faithful service, never complaining and never fading, eventually become unserviceable. Mine, for example, tend to rot out in the armpits.

A tidal wave of indecision has been eating at my innards. Which tees should I kill this year? Some of my old friends are looking pretty bedraggled. I suspect that several already know they will not be there next April to greet the warming sun and have already said their goodbyes.

Postscript: I’ve considered collecting national park sweatshirts too, but have you seen what they’re charging for those darn things? I’m a thrifty guy (not “cheap,” as my wife insists), so I’ll stick with the tees until I win the lottery.


I myself am a NP T-shirtaholic. I will buy 2 or three if I can't decide which one I want more. Unlike you my shirts don't get a rest, even though I live in NE Ohio, I wear my shirts year around. In the fall and winter I will wear them over a thermal T, and under a sweater or fleece pullover. Just having them near has a calming effect. I probably don't have nearly as many as you so I keep them hanging in my closet and will eventually pack them away in a storage container as they start to wear too thin, tear, or rot. I don't look forward to the day that I have to set my first T-shirt aside. It will be a solemn occasion filled with reminiscing of the good times and maybe even a few tears. I am glad you have given me the opportunity to share my obsession for NP T-shirts with you. I love your site, please keep up the wonderful work that you do with it.

We took several years buying tee shirts for the express purpose of turning them into a quilt. My wife did this and it's always on our bed.

What about the HATS?

@ Djjeffrey100; Thank you for confessing your NP tee obsession. It takes courage to admit that you are a shirtaholic, and I respect you for that. Perhaps testimony like yours will help others to confront this disease head-on and learn to deal with it. @ Anon; What are you THINKING, man?! Please tell me that you are making this up. I can't rest easy knowing that anybody would sacrifice wearable tees to make a quilt. If you insist on making quilts out of national park tees, I will be glad to send you my unserviceable ones. Never have counted them, but there's got to be at least 30 in the rag bag out there in the garage. (You might need to air them out for a while before working with them.) @WayneK; If you mean baseball-style caps, the only park-themed one I've got is an olive drab one with VOLUNTEER stitched at the top of the NPS arrowhead. I left it on the rear window ledge of my car for two summers, and as expected, the sun faded it just the "I've been around" color that I was looking for. If you are into cap- collecting, I'd like to hear more about it.

If you turn them inside out to wash them in cold water with Cheer Free or Dreft (costs more) and no fabric softener, then hang dry them, the precious things won't fade. I have many as well, as does my hubby (a major-league sweat machine), and the way I wash them keeps them looking great. I launder all t-shirts with logos or patterns this way. They still look new, and people can stand next to you when you wear one.

Hat's are the way to go, professor. They're much more durable than Tees. One of my favs bears the logo of the "Old Harbor U.S. Life Saving Service." Maybe we could use that as a Mystery Photo? Another, from Natural Bridges, reflects how hot it gets there in the summer -- it's a lightweight, buff-colored ballcap that won't toast your head during the high heat of July and August. Another from the Glacier Fund is much heavier, perfect for those not-too-terribly-cold ski days here in the Rockies.

As for Tees, my favorite has to be from Death Valley, as well. It bears a smilin', stridin' skeleton with the words, "Hike or Die!"

Broadcast the answer to a Mystery Photo quiz before you publish the quiz? That's great thinking, Kurt. No wonder you are a chief and I am still just an Indian. BTW, I think I'm beginning to warm to the idea of collecting caps. Please send me four or five of yours. Wash them first.

Thanks for the feedback, Jane. I did not get past the part of your comment that included the words "costs more," but perhaps others will be interested in your suggestions.

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