In celebration of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary, adventurer Mikah Meyer is traveling across America with the goal of visiting every one of the more than 400 sites within its jurisdiction. The young traveler set out from Washington, D.C. in June. VOA has been following him every step of the way.
Mikah Meyer recently traveled to the northeastern part of the U.S., where he hiked the last few miles of the northern end of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail to the top of Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park in north central Maine.
The long and winding road
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is a 3,508+ kilometer- (2,180+ mile-) long public footpath which starts in the southern state of Georgia and winds through the scenic, wooded, pastoral, wild, and culturally resonant lands of the Appalachian Mountains, ending at the top of Mount Katahdin.
It is managed cooperatively by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, numerous state agencies and thousands of volunteers.
From his vantage point on top of the mountain, Mikah and his travel companion Andy Waldron were able to get an amazing view of the neighboring Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Penobscot County, Maine, which President Barack Obama designated as a national park on August 25, 2016 - the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary.
It covers about 35,000 hectares of spectacular woods and waterways.
As he stood at the peak taking photographs and videos of the vast expanse around him, Mikah lamented that his camera would never be able to capture its full grandeur.
Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, as seen from the top of the mountain.
“I really wish this camera could capture the vastness of this place,” he said. “It’s so amazing to come from living in a city as dense as Washington, D.C. and look upon this land and realize this is the same country. It just looks like it goes on forever with nothing but trees.”
Hiking the Appalachian Trail
“It was so cool,” Mikah said, “to go to the top and watch the hikers who had been on the trail for five months or so, finishing their journey.”
“I was in awe of how long they’d been hiking and probably the coolest part was I overheard someone asking one of them, ‘What's been your favorite part of this 2,200 mile trail?’ and he said 'the most beautiful hike was the 5.2 mile hike here to the peak of Mount Katahdin,'” Mikah recalled.
“And I got to do that and watch them finish,” he added with deep emotion.
Mikah confessed there were two ways he could identify the “Thru-hikers,” people who had journeyed the full length of the Appalachian Trail end-to-end.
Appalachian Trail hikers end their journey at the top of Mount Katahdin
“I could smell them from 10 feet away, or if they were men, they all had beards,” he said with a laugh. “And surprisingly,” he added, “33 percent of the men that I met on the trail were redheads.”
Even though his eight-hour hike up the mountain had been exhausting, (more than 16km round trip), Mikah said “knowing that the next day I would get to go into this new national monument, which is such a virgin national park, made it worthwhile.”
No Moose-take – it was a moose!
One of the highlights of Mikah’s travels into the wilderness of the park was seeing a moose.
“So we're doing this 17-mile- (27km-) loop around the Katahdin National Monument and we got there super early, so we were the only car on the road… and I see this giant shadowy thing and I think maybe it's another vehicle, maybe it's a tree, maybe it’s a rock, and it was a massive moose,” he said excitedly.
Moose are one of the most common animals in the Maine woods, but are rarely seen.
“So the moose looks at us, turns back, stares, and then just bolts and takes off running. So we try to grab our cameras, we’re trying to get a picture and a video, and I drive up ahead around the corner, and it stopped again, looked at us again and bolted again, so we took a bunch of pictures as it was running away.”
Mikah said it was a rare sight, since a longtime resident of the area had told him that in 30 years of living there, he had always hoped to see a moose but never had. “It was so cool because here we got this close encounter with one, and it was raw and it was real and just so exciting.”
Mikah said he was riding that high for a long time after the sighting “because it was so unexpected and so fortuitous.”
Another surprise for Mikah was seeing protest signs in the nearby town, on the dirt roads leading to the monument, and within the monument itself. They'd been posted by nearby residents, and said “This road owner is against this national park,” or “This bridge owner votes no.”
“There’s still this really fascinating sense of a community that is pro this national monument and against it,” he said.
The local community has mixed feelings about establishing a national park in the North Maine Woods.
It's an economic issue. “I talked to some locals who said so much of this town and this region was wrapped up in the mill, and when things would go bad with the mill, they would always rebound, and so everyone's thinking that's going to happen. But now a lot of people are thinking, ‘well, this is our new economic opportunity, it’s time to embrace this and stop being angry about it.'"
“So it was so fascinating to be in this new national monument knowing all the controversy around it and seeing the physical pieces of this fight to make this new national park site."
Mikah summed up his experience of the park by saying what an “honor” it was to be able to experience it in its infancy.
“I'll be excited to see it in five to 10 years as it becomes a full-fledged unit and be able to drive down the roads without my van taking a beating,” he said with a chuckle.
To follow Mikah and learn more about the places he’s traveling to, he invites you to visit him on his website.