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Friday, April 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Traveler plans to see all 417 national parks in one road trip

Yosemite Falls is an attraction Yosemite National Park, Calif., especially this year with abundant water. (Scott Smith / Associated Press)
Yosemite Falls is an attraction Yosemite National Park, Calif., especially this year with abundant water. (Scott Smith / Associated Press)
By Tom Vogt Columbian

Mikah Meyer’s tally as of last week: 185 parks down and 232 to go.

Meyer is trying to become the first person to visit all 417 national parks on one long road trip. At 31, he also is trying to become the youngest person to complete the national park sweep.

Last week, he crossed Fort Vancouver National Historic Site off his list by stamping it in his park passport book.

Meyer is about 14 months into a three-year itinerary. He’s logged 27,000 miles in a cargo van that is his home away from home as well as his cross-country ride.

Unfortunately, several of the stops on Meyer’s route are not van accessible. Some are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean: “Island parks in Hawaii, Guam and American Samoa,” Meyer said.

“I keep praying that an airline or cruise company” will learn about the quest and give him an assist, he said.

“Three parks in Alaska are accessible by plane or boat. I’m putting them off as long as possible.”

So far, fewer than 50 people have completed the sweep or are closing in on No. 417.

“We track the people who visit all the national parks,” said Craig Bailey, secretary of the National Park Travelers Club. “Right now, there are 46 who have done that. Two more are finishing on July 9.

“For most members, it’s a lifelong goal. I know a few who have taken five, six or seven years. They come home and go back” on the road for another leg, said Bailey, who has visited 295 national parks.

Meyer, who grew up in Nebraska, says he was inspired by the death of his father, who loved taking the family on road trips.

While he’s been moving at his own pace since leaving Washington, D.C., on April 29, 2016, that pace has some strict timetables.

“Someone asked me if it was super-carefree,” Meyer said. “No. I can tell you everywhere I will be between now and the next 18 months.”

He is scheduled to return home to Washington, D.C., on April 29, 2019.

A lot of the route depends on the weather. Some parks are snowed in for much of the year. And, his van has no heating and no air conditioning when he isn’t running the engine.

So, “I follow the temperate season.”

During the past two weeks, Meyer visited the Whitman Mission National Historic Site near Walla Walla before making the John Day Fossils Beds National Monument in Oregon his 184th stop.

After pulling his white van into the Fort Vancouver Visitor Center parking lot, Meyer met Ranger Bob Cromwell for a tour. Cromwell, chief of interpretation, explained the overlapping histories of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, with transitions from a native community to a Hudson’s Bay trading hub to a U.S. Army post to an Oregon Trail destination.

“I had no idea it was so expansive,” Meyer said during the tour. After growing up in Nebraska, “I had no idea there was so much in the West.”

The notion of what makes for an interesting national park is strictly a personal choice. Meyer was asked whether some National Park Service sites have left him wondering: really?

He relied: “A lot of sites for individual presidents.”

“Is it really fair to spend our money on an individual president when there is not enough funding in this park or other? Maybe it could be funded by a private foundation,” Meyer said.

On the other hand, “I really love presidential history,” said Bailey, with the Travelers Club. “To some people, it’s another house. Some love the Civil War and spend days at every battlefield. All (417) have history and are worth saving.”

Meyer’s personal highlights so far include the Grand Canyon, Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota and Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado and Utah.

Meyer’s journey has a couple of other elements to it. A former singer with the Washington National Cathedral, he is singing and speaking at churches to raise some money along the way.

“It works out well to be in a city on a weekend so I can avoid weekends at a park,” he said.

And as a gay man, Meyer also is using his blog to urge LGBTQ millennials to get outdoors and enjoy our national parks.

Actually, that goes for everybody – including locals.

“Everywhere I’ve gone, local people have not been to their local site,” Meyer said. “I imagine a lot of Vancouver people drive by (Fort Vancouver) without stopping. I would encourage them to spend an hour here.”

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