Most American families celebrated the day after Thanksgiving with either marathon shopping or marathon TV-watching.
The Freys of Algonquin, Illinois, -- a suburb outside Chicago -- are not like most American families.
Daughter Aida is celebrated unofficially as the most-decorated Junior Ranger for the National Park Service. She has traveled with her parents, Shawn and Norma, to more than 330 parks in 47 states -- missing only Maine, Alaska and Hawaii. Over the short Thanksgiving break, the family decided to visit the newest addition to the park system -- unofficially no. 419 -- Mill Springs Battlefield.
While President Donald Trump signed legislation making Mill Springs a national monument last March, the finer details of National Park Service's acquisition of the property is still being finalized. That in no way dampened Aida's enthusiasm to see the historic site.
"We're up-to-date with all the national park news," Aida said of hearing about Mill Springs becoming a national monument. "I want to learn all I can about this beautiful place…I really like the calmness of this place."
Ironically, Aida's Junior Ranger journey began with a national monument, Effigy Mounds in Iowa. When she was just nine, the family ventured to Iowa to the baseball field built for the 1989 classic movie Field of Dreams.
Having finished there early in the afternoon, Shawn and Norma tried to find another attraction relatively close by to visit. They settled on Effigy Mounds, which preserves more than 200 mounds built by Native Americans to resemble various animals.
"We zigzagged through nothing but old farm roads," Shawn recalled. "Once we got there…Aida loved all the animal shapes. She just loved it."
As the Freys were preparing to leave at the end of the day, two rangers assigned to the monument approached Aida about joining the Junior Ranger program. Thus a quest was born.
"They helped me fill out the booklet, and when I got the badge, I thought it was the coolest thing ever," Aida said. "I just wanted to keep collecting them."
Without question, Aida's collection is extensive. In addition to the vest she wears loaded with badges front and back, she has 10 sashes similarly decked out. Those are carried in a bag weighing around 40 pounds. Being a Junior Ranger involves more than just visiting the national parks. To earn a badge at most sites, children must complete a booklet showing they've learned about the park and its history. Some require completing a series of activities.
While adding to her collection sparked Aida's love for the park system, it soon grew beyond that. "I started meeting more people, more rangers, and other junior rangers," she said, adding she enjoys helping other youths earn their badges.
"I think in general I just like traveling with my family and seeing the places that the National Park Service has preserved," Aida added.
Now 17, the high school senior keeps notes at every site she visits which also include Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and state locations as well as some Canadian parks. Her experiences have already been collected into a book -- America, Can I Have Your Autograph?--written in 2016.
One of Aida's most touching experiences involves one of the park rangers who helped her earn her first badge. When the woman passed away a few years ago, Effigy Mounds National Monument staff presented Aida with her name tag as a keepsake.
"What a great honor for the National Park Service to do that," Shawn observed.
Once she graduates, Aida is planning to first attend a nearby community college where she already takes classes. She wants to study graphic design and video classes so that she can help promote the National Park Service.
"I want to be part of the creative team for the national parks," Aida said. "I think I would like to help new national parks with their museums, park videos and booklets. I like creating things and I think I would be perfect for it since I've seen so many visitor centers, filled out so many booklets and watched a lot of [park] movies."
Does Aida have a favorite park?
"It would be impossible to pick just one," she said. "There are monuments, beaches, historical houses and battlefields. There's literally everything to see. If you're into music, you could go to New Orleans and learn about jazz. If you're into nature, you could see Yellowstone. If you're into history, you could go to Washington, D.C.
"I've created special memories at all these national parks," Aida added. "I've met lots of people and learned a lot of things."