The immediate origin of this project was a trip to Akron, Ohio that Sean and I took in July 2010 to celebrate the marriage of friends. Although for years I’d seen the sign announcing Cuyahoga Valley National Park as I’d driven the Ohio Turnpike from the Midwest to New York, New England or D.C., I’d never really had the opportunity to see the new park.
But there we were with the valley rolling north into the distance clearly visible from our downtown Akron hotel room. We decided to get up earlier than we needed to the next morning in order to have a chance to drive through the park on our way back to Chicago.
And such has it been. Save for two family excursions to the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, my other encounters with the National Parks have involved spontaneous, almost foolhardy, reroutes of trips that had nothing to do with visiting a National Park.
But each pell-mell trip, whether it be a drive from Kittyhawk to Ann Arbor diverted through Shenandoah National Park because “we’re in the same state so why not?” or deciding suddenly to truck it to Badlands National Park in the middle of January because a massive snowstorm was blocking routes south, resurrected the nagging little voice that at thirteen had been certain that I would see Arches, Glacier, Olympic and all the others before I died.
At 31, driving through Cuyahoga Valley on a warm, sunny Sunday summer morning, I asked why not see them all?
Why not indeed?
This project is predicated on the idea that it is possible for an average American to visit all 58 National Parks in a lifetime, regardless of how daunting American Samoa or Gates of the Arcric may feel. The sixteen-year parameter is less a fixed deadline than a guideline. And I fully intend to live my life normally, advancing my career, pursuing other interests, and doing other traveling during this time.
But I would be disappointed with myself at the end of my life, if I hadn’t at least tried to see these tremendous places.
The project also affords the opportunity to travel through the United States in order to get to the parks, and thereby get to know this place a little better. It is also, of course, an opportunity to travel with friends and loved ones scattered across the country. And to make new friends too.
I will share the full stories of visiting the five parks that can already be checked off the list. It’s also likely that over the course of the project I will revisit each of the five in a different way (traveling to the north rim of the Grand Canyon instead of the south rim, visiting Yosemite’s high sierra rather than just the Valley and Mariposa Grove).
And it’s not too early to begin planning for what has been a long-intended trip to the only park in my native Michigan: Isle Royale.