Sunday, July 29, 2007

Discovering America County by County

Editor Bruce Farrin at the Rumford Falls Times

I have just returned from a nine day county collecting trip in the northeast where I visited 17 new scattered counties, completing my collection of the six New England states. I finished Maine by returning to Oxford County, where my county quest actually began 12 years ago. There I had a chance meeting with Bruce Farrin, Editor of the Rumford Falls Times. He interviewed me, and his article appeared in the local newspaper. Here it is:

By Bruce Farrin
RUMFORD - Particularly during the summer months, many interesting people from all over the world travel through Rumford. Last week, one of them was J. Stephen Conn of Loveland, OH.

Twelve years ago, Conn visited nearby Bethel, marking the final state in the union he had visited. From his blog, Conn wrote about this feat. "Feeling proud and satisfied with my accomplishment, I pulled out the road atlas that night to reflect back on my travels - to all 50 of the United States. My feelings were the same I have heard other travelers speak of after reaching the end of a long-time goal - both a sense of elation and of being let down all at the same time. The list of 50 states was complete. I felt I had been everywhere in the country and there was no where new to go - at least not in America."

"It was then, while pouring over the atlas, I realized that although I had been in every state there were hundreds of spots on the map that I had not yet explored. That very evening I determined that I would begin my travels again - this time to visit every county. A tingle of excitement swept over me as if experiencing a new revelation. I had a fresh goal; my travels had just begun." Conn decided he would visit all the nation's counties and parishes - all 3,141 of them.

"Over the next couple of weeks, I carefully went over the records of my past travels and memories with a county map of each state. I listed only the counties for which I had a clear recollection of having visited. I had been to 1,035 counties - less than one-third of the whole. I determined that within the next 10 years I would travel to them all, at a little more than 200 counties per year." "I thought I could do it in 10 years. It's been 12. It's quite a daunting task," he noted, adding that Oxford County brought his total to 2,563 or about 82 percent.

Conn said he has visited every county in 14 states. "At my present rate, I figure I have a fairly reasonable chance of visiting the last county within the next five years, but not without a very concentrated effort. The counties yet to go keep getting harder to reach." Recently retired, the 62-year-old said "The best part is meeting people. I've learned to love the country."

Conn, a freelance writer and photographer, is also a retired pastor and syndicated newspaper columnist. His writing credits include authoring five books and more than 300 articles which have appeared in a large variety of magazines and scores of newspapers.

Conn said he doesn't compare one county against another. All counties offer something different, so he doesn't choose favorites. Of this area, he noted "There's so much to see and do here. It's beautiful. I didn't know about Muskie being from here or that you had a Paul Bunyan. There's so much to discover and learn." While in this region, Conn said he will hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail, which will make 13 of the 14 possible states he has done this. He also visited Mexico and Dixfield on this day.

Conn said he is one of the 900,000 people listed online at They rank people by the number of travel tips logged. Conn is 16th from the top. As for how many people have accomplished this feat, Conn said research through Google indicates that less than two dozen have visited every county/parish in the country. He has a website titled, which has articles and photos of places all over the country he has visited. He said he is still working on tying history together that he has learned along his travels.

Conn said his wife, Karen, enjoyes traveling as well, having visited 900 of the counties with him. Ultimately, Conn said he would love to visit every country in the world, but noted it would take more resources than what he has. He still has managed to set foot in 46 countries, which would be quite an accomplishment for most of the less-traveled population.

"If I can't do that (travel the world), at least I can get to know my own country well," he noted.

Rumford, Maine

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Every Whatever

I've discovered a delightful blog called "Every Whatever" by a young man named Dan, with a little help from friends Carey and Carolyn - people after my own heart. It so happens that Dan and I both live in the greater Cincinnati area, so we're neighbors, although we haven't met yet.

The subtitle of Dan's blog is:

"Visiting all of various places. Like every street in Madeira. Or every county in Ohio. Or every subway stop in New York City. You know, stupid stuff."

Among that "stupid stuff" are entries on riding each of the 62 bus routes in Houston, Texas or visiting every library in Cuyhoga County (Cleveland), Ohio and more. However, I wouldn't call any of those things "stupid." Sitting in front of a television set all day is stupid.

Dan's 24-Hour Ohio County Route

In his November, 2006 entry Dan gives a rather lenghty but amazing account of how he and a couple of buddies performed the remarkable feat of visiting every one of Ohio's 88 counties in less than 24 hours. The story is fascinating, and sometimes hilarious. I wish I could have been there.

Dan is a little weird, in a very positive sort of way. He is also a good writer. If you read my blog, you'll enjoy seeing Dan's. Click it up at or

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Amazing Adventures in Podunk, U.S.A.

Teapot Water Tower, Lindstrom, Minnesota

I have recently returned from a 9 day road trip to meet my wife Karen in Minneapolis for a romantic weekend. She flew to Minnesota on business. Since I am recently retired and have more time than Karen, I drove out to meet her.

Minneapolis is 714 miles from Loveland, so I should have been able to go there and back in well under 1,500 miles, with about 11 hours driving time in each direction. As a truly dedicated county collector, I added five days to the trip and more than doubled the miles necessary. The 3,092 miles I drove took me through parts of 8 states, where I collecting a total of 52 new counties in Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota.

It’s amazing what you can find in small town America – and in a part of the country that some people think is nothing but corn fields. Here are just a few of the discoveries I made:

*The National Hobo Museum and Home of the National Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa.

*The World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Darwin, Minnesota. I’ve also seen the “World’s Largest Ball of Twine” in Cawker, Kansas, but for anything this important there’s got to be at least two of them.

*The “World’s Largest Truck Stop” and Trucking Hall of Fame, Iowa 80, 10 miles west of Davenport.

*A teapot shaped water tower in Lindstrom, Minnesota, “America’s Little Sweden.”

*Lots for sale at only $1.00 each in a declining area of North Dakota, to attract new residents.

*An authentic Dutch windmill, Dutch architecture, and a "Tulip Festival" in Orange City, Iowa.*“Ice Cream Capitol of the World" in Le Mars, Iowa.

*Birthplace of the 4-H Club cloverleaf emblem in Clarion, Iowa.

Also I stayed in an authentic old log cabin in the Minnesota North Woods, built as part of a tourist court before the days of modern motels. I savored “world famous” chicken and dumpling soup – a Minnesota regional favorite, kissed a Blarney Stone from Ireland in Emmetsburg, Iowa, and MUCH, MUCH more.

Rural America is just brimming with delightful surprises for those who take time to discover them.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

More News about County Collector Margaret Gates

Yesterday I posted an article from The Manhattan Mercury about Margaret Gates, who had just completed her lifelong goal of visiting every county in the United States. In an email from Jessica Grant, the writer for that article, I learned that there had been an earlier piece about the same woman, when she still had 18 counties to go on her quest. Here it is:

The USA, one county at a time
Retiree set to complete quest to visit furthest reaches of each state

Jessica Grant

Margaret Gates shows maps of Nebraska and South Dakota and the handful of counties (in white) she has left to visit. Staff photo by David Mayes

Few know the United States the way Margaret Gates knows it. .

The octogenarian has traveled the country for much of her life, and by the end of May, she will have been to every county in America.

"I only have 18 counties left — nine in Nebraska and nine in South Dakota," Gates said.

Her travels began soon after she was born. Her father, Frank C. Gates, was a botany professor at Kansas State University and each summer, before heading to the University of Michigan to teach for two months, he would take the family on meandering three-week trips to collect specimens for the herbariams he helped keep.

"Dad was trying to collect specimens from every county in the country," Gates explained. "My dad believed in teaching whoever he was with. All winter, David (her brother) and I would study maps and we got to help plan the trips."

Her father had a U.S. map on which each county was delineated, and Gates still has the map, each tiny square colored in, with the year the family visited the county marked in her father's neat penmanship.

Gates, a small, sharp woman who's spry for her 83 years, is straightforward with a sly sense of humor. She's a treasure trove of travel information but has no plans to record her stories.
"I don't write well," she said. "Everybody says to write my stories down, but I just like to talk. If you start asking questions, I won't stop talking."

She says she can remember the days when people still traveled by train — her family didn't get its first automobile until 1929, so most of her early travels were by rail. She says she remembers traveling on the first highways.

"The roads didn't have highway numbers then, just the names," Gates said, "and the only paved roads were in towns."

As she talks about her travels, she notes that Georgia is second only to Texas in the number of counties in a state, and that Alaska doesn't have counties, just population districts .

She says she remembers the first time she saw the word "motel."

"People didn't travel much in those days and we were in La Jolla, Calif., when I first saw the word," she said. "My dad told me it was a contraction of the words 'motor' and 'hotel.'"

The Gates family traveled in the days when access to public monuments was a bit more lax, and one of her fondest memories is sliding down President Lincoln's nose — at Mt. Rushmore, that is.

"(Her family was) at the top of Mt. Rushmore — we got to go to the top when they were doing repairs on Lincoln's nose," she said. "One of the men had left his jackhammer down on the nose. He asked if I wanted to ride down the ropes with him to get it, so I did."

Gates traveled with only the company of a string of Boston terriers, but said she was never concerned for her wellbeing.

"I never felt unsafe," she said. "I drove a 1959 TR30 and would throw a sleeping bag down on the side of the road and sleep. People told me it wasn't safe, but I never felt that way."
When asked what her favorite place to visit was, she sighs.

"Everyone asks me that," she said, "but the natural beauty of this country is our best kept secret. Every place has great spots. The Blue Ridge Mountains in Tennessee, when the rhododendrons are blooming — there's just something unearthly about that.

"But for me, the joy of traveling is seeing the horizon," she continued. "I used to drive a convertible and loved to drive across the plains at night and tilt my head up to watch the stars."

In 1991, when she retired as head librarian at Manhattan Public Library, Gates decided to finish her travels. She made a solid dent in her project, visiting the corners of America in a motorhome.

The travel project was almost completed when Gates lost her sight last summer to wet macular degeneration, a disease in which blood vessels under the eye's retina leak and cause scarring.

The bookworm says losing her sight was heartbreaking, but she's now discovered books on tape. She lives at Meadowlark Hills Retirement Community with her Boston terrier (who also happens to be blind). She still sees images out of the corners of her eyes, but said she has no plans to drive again.

Gates will finish her trip this summer with the help of longtime friends Charlie and Alice Michaels.

Although she has almost completed her quest, Gates said she will never feel as if her travels are finished.

"We tend to do the things we want to, don't we?" she mused. "Everything in life is a choice and I just happened to be more adventuresome than most."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Manhattan, Kansas, Woman Completes Her County Quest

Kansas Photo by J. Stephen Conn

Article from The Manhattan Mercury:

At journey's end, with good friends
Local woman finishes lifelong quest
Jessica Grant

After 83 years and more than 3,000 counties, Margaret Gates has completed her exploration of America.

Her journey began with her father — former K-State Botany Professor Frank C. Gates — as he collected specimens from every county in the United States. Margaret Gates later made it her goal to finish visiting each county, a goal she achieved a couple of weeks ago in Bennett County, S.D.

"I feel like I'm finished," Gates said. "It's like in the Caribbean when the people have sold their wares, they throw up their hand and say 'I'm finished!' That's how I feel now." When she entered the final county, her traveling companions, Charlie and Alice Michaels and Alice's sister Mary Reinke, produced noisemakers, balloons and a bottle of champagne, and played Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again."

Gates has photos in which she is releasing those balloons, her small frame appearing to almost float away in the strong wind. Attached to the balloons was a note that read "This celebrates a lifelong quest to visit every county in every state in the USA. Bennett Co., S. Dakota, being the final one. God Bless America; The Beautiful." At the end of the note, Gates included her e-mail address, in hopes someone finds the note soon and lets her know where the balloons ended their journey.

Although she has a tough exterior, Gates says she teared up a bit when she popped the cork off the chamgagne.

"I'm just very satified, grateful and pleased with the people who helped me finish this trip," she said.

Alice Michaels said she and Reinke consider Gates family, and they were glad to help her finish her journey.

"We just had the most fun on the trip," Michaels said. "We found so many ways to enjoy it. Having finally finished this lifelong thing was overwhelming ... I think it took a little while for it to sink in. That evening, we kept saying 'We did it! We did it!' "

As the Mercury reported earlier this spring, Gates had only 18 counties left in her quest; nine in Nebraska and nine is South Dakota.

People often ask why she saved counties so close to Kansas for the end. In Nebraska, a group of county commissioners who'd heard of her travels asked her to attend their meeting, and asked her that question.

"I don't think that fast on my feet, but Charlie (Michaels) answered the question for me," Gates said. "He said 'she wanted to save the best for last.'"

At that meeting, Gates learned about ethanol production and how it is expected to affect the state of Nebraska.

"That's the beauty of this type of travel," she said. "The fun is to meet people and learn. You don't have that on the interstates."

When asked what her favorite places to visit were, Gates sighs, a pained look on her face. She says she could provide many lists of the counties she's enjoyed, but that narrowing it down is tough. After a meandering (but pleasant) conversation, she did provide The Mercury with a list.

"It's hard to rank counties. Each is so different," Gates said. "I often think of places with great nostalgia."

She gets a faraway look in her eyes as she speaks, the kind of look that reveals as much as it veils. Gates has countless memories of her travels — many of which she's more than willing to share — but that gaze indicates plenty of memories that she'll always keep to herself.

She doesn't have plans set, Gates said, but she will undoubtedly do more traveling.

"I'm just glad I was able to complete this trip," she said. "I never thought I would do it before I died."

Her own Top 10 Riley County. "I wouldn't have lived here half of my life if I didn't love it. Living out at Tuttle Creek was a joy."

Emmett County, Mich. "I spent my summers there as a child. It was gorgeous, but I wouldn't have wanted to live there in the winter."

Cheboygan County, Mich. (Neighboring county of Emmett County).

Craven County, N.C.

Fayette County, Pa. "This is where Falling Water — Frank Lloyd Wright's famous house — is. Every inch of it is a marvel. Everyone should go there and close their eyes and marvel at how one man could envision this. When the laurel bushes and the rhododendrons are blooming it's lovely."

Stone County, Mo. "There were only 260 people living in the County seat when I lived there."

Lee County, Fla., Sanibel Island.

Suffolk County, N.Y.

Middlesex County, Conn. "I was there in May and the trees were that new green they get right before they burst with color."

Humboldt County, Calif. "It's backwoodsy. I loved the flora and fauna and it hasn't been spoiled like so much of the California landscape. The redwoods are so spectacular."

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Seeing ALL of America

I must concede that my ultimate travel fantasy would be to visit every country on earth, and I have been privileged to travel to about 45 of them. However, to get to every spot on this planet is simply beyond the means and ability of most everyone - including myself.

If I can't see the whole world, I decided long ago that at least I would see as much of my own country as possible. In one lifetime it would be impossible to see every nook and cranny of this great land: tour every city, town and hamlet, climb every hill and mountain, float every stream, stroll through every park, follow every highway, country road and wilderness trail. There just aren't enough days in a lifetime to do it all. So I've compromised by setting out to at least visit each of the 3,141 counties in our great land. In so doing I will be able to say I know my country well, and I will have experienced more of it than most people ever do.

My decision to visit every county was inspired, at least in part, by a chance meeting with a businessman from Malaysia who happened to sit beside me on a flight between Honolulu and Hong Kong. I was on my way to Manila, Philippines, and he was returning home from six weeks in America. I asked him, "How much of our country did you see?"

"Oh," he replied with a confident air, "I saw all of it!"

That was amazing. I have lived in the United States not for 6 weeks but for more than 60 years, have traveled much, and do not consider that I have seen nearly all of this vast and varied land. I questioned the Malaysian brother, "All of it? Exactly what do you consider all of America to be?"

"I spent a week each in New York, Miami, Chicago, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Seattle," he smiled. "From coast-to- coast, from top-to-bottom and in the middle - I saw all of America."
"Did you ever get outside of the inner cities?"
"Oh yes, I saw the rural areas too. I took a bus from Vancouver to Seattle so I could see the countryside."
I was stunned. In my opinion the six cities he had visited are an extremely limited introduction to this great country, especially if one stays in a downtown hotel and doesn't venture outside the city center, as he admitted he had done except for one short bus ride. My Malaysian friend is to be commended for seeing as much of America as he did. He has experienced much more of my country than I have of his. However, he had barely sampled a limited urban America which is almost as foreign to many who live in this country as are London, Moscow or Hong Kong.

I wish every visitor to America could see not only our great cities, but our mid-sized cities as well, and also our small towns, rural villages, farms, forests, fields, national and state parks, and untamed wilderness areas.

I love the United States of America. I love her for one simple reason; America is my home. I was born and reared here, as were my parents, my grand parents, and several generations before. As is true with the vast majority of people who call this American melting pot home, my ancestors came from many places: Ireland, Scotland, Germany, France, England and perhaps other countries unknown. And at least some of my forebears were native Cherokee Indians. I think of myself as an All-American hybrid.
As an All-American hybrid I am determined that in my lifetime I will see All of America - or die trying.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Article about Alabama County Counter Robert Burckhalter

The following article appeared in this morning's issue of The Crimson White - Online, a publication from the University of Alabama.

Biology instructor gives unique lessons to students
By Brett Bralley

Contributing Writer
February 16, 2007

Biology instructor Robert Burckhalter has been to all 50 states in the country and all but 78 counties. The U.S. map on the wall of his office has dark lines and curves all over it, outlining every road he's ever traveled.

"You will never meet anyone who has seen more in the United States than me," Burckhalter said.

Burckhalter teaches introduction-level biology courses at the University, and every summer he travels the United States studying plants and making collections. Visiting every county in the United States is a goal he set in high school, Burckhalter said.

Burckhalter teaches Biology 116 and Biology 108, which is a class for nonmajors. He has been teaching at the University for the past four years.

"I'm always casually dressed," he said. "And I ride a bicycle."

Burckhalter said he has taught around 14,000 students throughout his career, and he enjoys seeing them outside of class. He said he tries to keep his classes entertaining.

"Teaching and being around students helps me feel younger and more energized," Burckhalter said.

All of Burckhalter's traveling and in-depth knowledge makes his classes interesting, some students said.

Trey Velleggia, a sophomore majoring in business administration and Spanish, took Biology 108 with Burckhalter.

"I enjoyed when he would share personal stories of his explorations and different places he has been," Velleggia said. "He's very entertaining and realistic."

Beth Lester, a freshman with an undecided major, took Biology 116 and said she enjoyed learning Burckhalter's interesting facts that went beyond what was in the textbook.

"He talked about 'watermelon snow,'" Lester said. "It's a type of algae that when it's on snow it tastes like watermelon. But it's toxic so you can only taste it and spit it out. How unfortunate."

Burckhalter received his bachelor's degree at the University of Colorado and came to the University to earn his master's degree in 1985 and his Ph.D. in 1990.

"There is incredible research going on here," Burckhalter said. "In all my traveling, Alabama has the friendliest people I have ever met."

Writing a book is another undertaking Burckhalter has accomplished. From "St. Augustine to Bellingham" is a detailed route from St. Augustine, Fla., to Bellingham, Wash., that is completely rural and goes through no major cities. Altogether, the route has only 201 traffic lights. It ends at the Alaska Ferry Terminal in Bellingham Bay.

The book has been published by the UA Cartographic Laboratory, but Burckhalter would like to find another publisher, renaming the book "The Most Rural Route Across America," he said. The new version would also contain more photos and narrations, he said.

Burckhalter said his draw toward plant biology stemmed from his travels. "I was traveling and I saw plants and I wondered if I could eat those things if I had to," he said. "I started to learn on my own.

"The more I learn the more I realize how little I really know. It scares the heck out of me," he said.

Here is the link to The Crimson White - Online:

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Collecting Counties: Hereditary or Acquired?

Counting Counties with Karen in Arizona

Although I was 50 years old before I started keeping a list of the counties I had visited, I wonder if the kink that makes me want to count counties might be hereditary.

My parents were not county counters, but both of them traveled extensively and kept a record of all the states and foreign countries they had been to - all 50 states and more than 60 countries.

Dad did have a younger sister, Fay, who is a county counter. I had been keeping a record of my own counties visited for a few years when I stopped in to see Aunt Fay at her home in Georgia. When I told her of my hobby, I was both surprised and pleased to learn that she had been counting counties for much longer than me.

Aunt Fay has lived on the same street all of her 77 years, and has never owned an automobile or even had a drivers license. Because of these limitations, she never aspired to visit every county in the United States. Her world didn't extend much past the State of Georgia. Still, as a young woman, she set out to visit each one of the 159 counties in that state - and did it.

Georgia is the largest state in land area east of the Mississippi River, and also has much smaller counties than many other states. For that reason, Georgia has more counties than any state in the union except for Texas. Collecting those counties is a daunting task for anyone. Aunt Fay did it by traveling via train, bus, or hitching a ride with family and friends. I wonder if anyone else has ever visited every county in Georgia without driving. She has my utmost admiration.

Even though it took me five decades of life to begin counting counties, I have collected similar travel goals since I was a kid. When I was only seven or eight years old I loved climbing trees so much that I decided I would climb every tree in the world. Of course my world was very small at that time. I climbed the dozen or so trees in our yard in Cleveland, Tennessee, and upon completion of each tree nailed the cap off of a soda bottle into the base of the tree to indicate that I had climbed it. Soon I had nailed bottle caps to every tree in our neighborhood, and also on many of the trees in Harrison Bay State Park, where Mom and Dad often took our family for picnics. I even climbed trees and nailed bottle caps in the woods near my Grandmother's house in Georgia.

Needless to say, I gave up on that pursuit at about the same time I quit believing in Santa Claus. There are just too many trees. Also, old trees die and new ones keep sprouting all the time. Later I have "collected" other geographically related things such as states, state high points, foreign countries, national park sites, hiking trails and more.

Maybe I collect travel experiences and keep a record of them because doing such runs in my family. Other people seem to come about county counting by catching it from someone else. My wife, Karen, is a good example. Shortly after we were married, just five years ago, she made a list of all the counties she had visited and came up with a little more than 200. Today her list is more than 900 and growing rapidly. Karen eagerly records her counties visited on every trip we make, and before one journey has ended she is already planning the next. Did she catch the bug from me? Maybe. But really I think Karen had the traits of a county counter all along - just waiting for the right spark to awaken it within her.

Not everyone has the right stuff to be a county counter. It's not a goal for a single vacation - or even a year of traveling. To follow the dream of visiting every county in the United States to completion usually takes decades of consecrated effort. In fact, if the pursuit of visiting every county doesn't consume you, you'll never make it.

When I talk of counting counties some people respond with yawns or glazed expressions and quickly change the subject to something in which they are interested. I've had a few even rebuff me for counting counties, saying it is silly, or a worthless pursuit. I've decided that these folks don't have the same gene mix as me. They just don't get it, and they never will.

It seems to me that the thing which motivates a person to count counties is both hereditary and something you catch. First, you've got to have the makings of a county counter inside you: curiosity, the love for travel and adventure, and be a compulsive goal setter and list maker. If you've got these characteristics it still doesn't make you a county counter. Now you need a catalyst. It may be an article you read, a conversation with a friend, or some other spark that ignites your vision.

If you've got what it takes to be a county counter, you know it. If not, you probably haven't read this far.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

What Counts for these U.S. Travelers is Counties

Article from the Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minnesota

For Bill Tyler, there's no such thing as flyover country.

That's because the St. Paul resident is an Extra Miler, someone who has a goal of visiting every county in the United States.

That's 3,141 counties, "more or less," said J. Reid Williamson, secretary, editor and treasurer of the Extra Miler Club ( The number depends on how you choose to count the dozens of independent cities in the country, the handful of counties that have merged or divided over the years or the former leper colony in Hawaii that's listed as a county by the U.S. Census even though it doesn't have a county court system.

But it's not deciding which county to count that's the main challenge to being an Extra Miler. It's the sheer magnitude of the task of bumping along thousands of back-road miles just to say you've seen every bit of the nation.

These are people who scour the Internet to exchange tips on whether a certain highway nicks a county border. They take a different route every time they drive to the parents' for the holidays so they can bag a few extra locations. They drag relatives to lonely corners of the nation like Ziebach, S.D., or Bee, Texas.

"Sometimes, the trip itself is a detour," said Tyler, 45. "You get across the county border. You do a U-turn, and you get right back out."

It takes most people decades of cross country travel to complete the task, even when they retroactively trace the path of all those family driving vacations they endured as a kid.

"It's a daunting task," said Williamson, a 58-year-old U.S. Army analyst who lives in the Washington, D.C., area. "Driving across Texas just to get 254 counties can seem tiresome."

Out of more than 300 official club members, just over 20 claim to have finished visiting all the counties in the U.S.

Williamson has three counties left, but since they're in the remote Alaskan islands of Kodiak, the Eastern Aleutians and the Western Aleutians, Williamson figures he'll have to spend about $2,000 for the plane and boat trip needed before he can finish shading in the only blank spots in his national county map.

"I'm hoping to do it in 2007," he said.

"I don't know if I'll ever probably complete," said Tyler, a 45-year-old Web developer who has visited 2,051 counties.

According to the code of the Extra Milers, you can count a county if you drive, walk, pedal, swim, ski or boat across the county line. It counts even if someone else is driving the car and you are asleep during your visit. The only thing that doesn't count is flying over the county in a plane because "it's just too hard to see the signs that say 'Entering Beaufort County.' "

It's strictly on the honor system, but some Extra Milers like to add extra requirements to their quests.

Some feel compelled to take a picture of themselves at the county boundary sign or visit an attraction in every county or get someone in the county courthouse to sign a logbook, a task that adds even more miles to their odyssey because some counties have two county seats.

"We have at least two people doing it by bike," Williamson said.

As long as they're spending so much time on the road, Extra Milers also tend to add other geographical collecting challenges, like hiking to the highest or lowest point in each state or bowling, golfing or scuba diving in every state.

There's a guy who has a Web page about his whirlwind visit to all 88 counties in Ohio — he did it in 24 hours. And another guy who wanted to eat a Big Mac in every McDonald's in North America. Some want to cross every state-to-state border or even every county-to-county border in the country.

David Sturrock, a political science professor at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, has logged visits to 1,805 counties, including a mule ride to Kalawao County in Hawaii, the former leper colony that is now a historical park.

"By my count, I'm 57.5 percent done."

He also likes to collect congressional districts. There are 435 of those, a number that keeps growing, thanks to redistricting.

Tyler, an avid St. Paul Saints fan, is also collecting visits to ballparks the Saints play in.
"There's this sort of obsessive, got to get them all, collect them all, sort of thing," Tyler said.

Extra Milers also tend to collect nongeographical things.

Bill Hafker Jr., of Donnelly, Minn., also collects antique cars and has almost 23,000 45 rpm records. Hafker, a catastrophe insurance adjuster, said he drives about 30,000 miles a year. He figures he might be able to finish the counties in the Lower 48 in about 10 years.

"I don't fly, so Hawaii is going to be real tough," he said.

Extra Miler Patrick Desbonnet, a letter carrier from Brooklyn Center, has almost 1,000 counties as well as 4,000 license plates.

The Extra Milers Club, in fact, was started in 1973 by a couple of license plate collectors who were comparing places they had been. Extra Milers hold an annual meeting at the same time and place as the much larger American License Plate Collectors Association convention.

For many Extra Milers, the hobby begins long before they discover — usually on the Internet — there is a club of people like them.

Tyler, for example, was a toddler when his father started the family on the county-collecting hobby, filling in maps for every family member with colored markers after every long road trip.

"I can't remember a time when I wasn't doing it," he said.

"The trips were at times grueling and full of 'detours,' " wrote Tyler in an e-mail. "That on top of taking the less-direct routes to any destination, which often annoyed my mother (as well as my own wife)."

According to Williamson, county collecting appeals to "the semi-adventurous."
"It's someone who wants some scenic adventure but nothing too dangerous," he said.

Extra Milers say the quest forces them to see pretty much everything this country has to offer, both geographically and socially.

"If you dislike something like flatlands or mountains, this is something you don't want to do," Williamson said.

"It gives you a reason to see many parts of the country that people just don't see," Tyler said.

"You tell people about it and their eyes kind of glaze over," said Desbonnet.

But "there's something everywhere. There's just something to see everywhere," Haf-ker said.

Richard Chin can be reached at or 651-228-5560.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Lost Counties May Be Re-established in Georgia

Fulton County, Georgia
Formerly Fulton, Milton & Campbell Counties

Georgia, the largest state in land area east of the Mississippi River, has 159 counties - more than any other state except Texas. Before 1932 there were 161 counties in Georgia. Then during the Great Depression, both Milton and Campbell counties were merged into Fulton County (Atlanta) to form the odd-shaped elongated county which still exists today. Now there is a move under way that would restore the three counties to their original boundaries.
Unfortunately, the Associated Press has tried to sensationalize this and make it into a racial issue. Having lived for 15 years in Georgia, and having many family members who are lifelong citizens of Fulton County, I agree that the division of Fulton County would be a good move and I strongly object to the charge that the proposal is racially motivated.
By the way - most of my kin who live there are in the "original" Fulton County and would not be a part of the re-established Milton or Campbell counties if the division takes place.
Below is the AP release:

By DOUG GROSS, Associated Press Writer Tue Jan 23, 2:27 PM ET

White Atlanta Suburbs Push for Secession

ATLANTA - A potentially explosive dispute in the City Too Busy to Hate is taking shape over a proposal to break Fulton County in two and split off Atlanta's predominantly white, affluent suburbs to the north from some of the metropolitan area's poorest, black neighborhoods.

Legislation that would allow the suburbs to form their own county, to be called Milton County, was introduced by members of the Georgia Legislature's Republican majority earlier this month.
Supporters say it is a quest for more responsive government in a county with a population greater than that of six states. Opponents say the measure is racially motivated and will pit white against black, rich against poor.

"If it gets to the floor, there will be blood on the walls," warned state Sen. Vincent Fort, an Atlanta Democrat and member of the Legislative Black Caucus who bitterly opposes the plan. Fort added: "As much as you would like to think it's not racial, it's difficult to draw any other conclusion."

The legislation calls for amending the Georgia Constitution to allow the return of Milton County, which succumbed to financial troubles during the Depression and was folded into Fulton County in 1932.

The former Milton County is now mostly white and Republican and one of the most affluent areas in the nation. Atlanta and its southern suburbs are mostly black, are controlled by Democrats and have neighborhoods with some of the highest poverty rates in America. (Buckhead, a fashionable Atlanta neighborhood of clubs, restaurants and mansions, would remain in Fulton County.)

"The only way to fix Fulton County is to dismantle Fulton County," said state Rep. Jan Jones, the plan's chief sponsor. "It's too large, and certainly too dysfunctional, to truly be considered local government."

Jones, a former marketing executive who lives in the Fulton suburb of Alpharetta, cited the county's troubled library and public transit systems and a jail that was taken over by a federal judge because it was filthy and unsafe. He denied the move is racially motivated.

Don Petree, the 62-year-old owner of Don's Hairstyling in Roswell, another northern Fulton suburb, said many of his customers "feel like they're not being taken care of like they should be with the tax dollars they're spending. I think there's some truth to that."

Milton County would have a population of about 300,000, instantly making it Georgia's fifth-largest county.

Residents of north Fulton represent 29 percent of the county's population of 915,000 but pay 42 percent of its property taxes, according to a local taxpayers group. A split would lead to the loss of $193 million in property taxes alone for Fulton County.

About 25 miles to the south in downtown Atlanta, the Rev. J. Allen Milner said he is afraid the tax revenue loss would have a devastating effect on those who need government help the most.

"If you take that money out of their coffers, human services will suffer greatly," said Milner, a black man who runs a homeless mission and is pastor of the Chapel of Christian Love Church.

Critics of a split also worry about the future of Grady Memorial Hospital and the Atlanta area's MARTA commuter-rail system — both of which have contracts with the county.

In addition, some warn that a breakup of Fulton could harm Atlanta's international reputation as a progressive city and hurt its appeal as a business, entertainment and convention destination.

While other Southern cities erupted in violence a generation ago, Atlanta came through the civil rights movement with little strife, earning the nickname The City Too Busy to Hate. It is now home to one of the nation's largest black middle-class communities.

"This would send a clear messages to companies around the country that Atlanta may not be as progressive as it would like people to think," Fort said.

The measure would require the support of two-thirds of both the House and Senate. Then it would have to put to a statewide vote. Also, residents of what would become Milton County would have to endorse the plan.

While Republicans have majorities in both chambers, they would need to win over three Democrats in the Senate and 14 in the House to get it passed.

The legislation has support from some of the Legislature's key leaders. Republican House Speaker Glenn Richardson has referred to his top lieutenant, Rep. Mark Burkhalter, as "the member from Milton County."

My Brother-in-law, Eddy Robbins, who lives in the Atlanta area, had this to say in an email about the possible split of Fulton County:

"Once again, it seems like something is racially motivated when it is really not the case. Fulton County is a very long county north to south. If you live in Alpharetta and you need to go to the county for anything, you have to drive through the traffic to get to downtown Atlanta. it is no fun. So, what is proposed is a split of the county on the north side, forming Milton County that would include Sandy Springs, Roswell and Alpharetta. It would be the 6th largest Georgia county. It was set up that way originally but was merged into one county for financial purposes many years ago.
"This article makes it seem like it's racially motivated. There are plenty minorities on the north side. Also....what is not mentioned in this article is the fact that a mostly black area on the south side is wanting to do the same thing and form Campbell County."


Here's a link to the article on Yahoo news:

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Collecting Counties - Boston Globe Article

Collecting counties -- even crossing the border into obsession

By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Globe Correspondent August 22, 2004

PROVIDENCE -- After their annual meeting last month, members of the Extra Miler Club set out on their first group trip, a modest afternoon swing through five counties. Didn't sound like much of a challenge for a crew that has flown into Alaska's Aleutian Islands, scaled mountainous Kalawao County on Molokai, braved the upper reaches of Door County, Wis., and felt the barren expanse of Loving County, Texas.

But just as they were speeding south on Interstate 95 in Reid Williamson's gold Volkswagen Passat station wagon (the 2003 model on which he already has logged 44,000 miles), he spotted a suspicious sign.

" 'South County,' " the bearded Army management analyst from Annandale, Va., said. "Which I believe is a touristic designation."

Every Extra Miler's goal is to visit all 3,143 counties in the United States. Fewer than two dozen of about 300 members have gotten there. Most devote decades to the quest, spend thousands of dollars, run down their cars, hop prop planes, rack up speeding tickets, lie to their spouses, and become obsessed with geographical trivia. All in pursuit of a complete, though intangible, collection of county experiences.

Club president Mike Natale, who was sitting beside Williamson on the July 23 outing, dismissed the South County sign. An education consultant from the Pittsburgh area, Natale, 27, has been an Extra Miler half his life. He already had "completed" the five Rhode Island counties before the annual meeting, and reeled off their names as Williamson drove: Bristol, Kent, Newport, Providence, and Washington. South doesn't count.

Just what does count as a county is a popular subject of debate among club members. They generally agree on county boundaries and use the same black-and-white map to color them in as they go. But do they have to visit independent cities that lie outside county lines? What about Indian reservations? Alaskan census areas? Louisiana parishes? When a new county is created, such as six-year-old Broomfield in Colorado, do they have to return? Does flying over a county count?

Williamson arbitrated such disputes as club treasurer, secretary, and editor of the newsletter. He answered questions that arose during the meeting, when members rose one by one to announce their totals. Many were wearing blue club T-shirts that read, "The shortest distance between two points is no fun."

Those who have been to the county from which Broomfield was created don't have to return, Williamson said, but it counts from now on. Indian reservations don't count, although some members visit them anyway. (Lenny Fetterman, a retired mail carrier from Oregon, Ohio, has seen them all.) Parishes count, and so do independent cities and Alaska.

"I had a gentleman write to me recently to say he had completed everything except Alaska and the independent cities," Williamson told the group. He did not issue the man a certificate or engrave his name on the plaque that commemorates completers at the Piccadilly Museum of Automobile Memorabilia and Advertising Art in Butte, Mont.

"I'm sorry," Williamson said, "but that's not a good enough effort."

Picture Alaska. Williamson just returned from a 15,000-mile, 23-borough-census area trip. He announced at the meeting that he has six counties left to visit. Everyone clapped.

"If you all go and need a really good pilot in Kotzebue to get into the bush," he said, "I got a great one."

Alaska was a highlight, too, for Fetterman, who completed his final county seven years ago. He has gone to extremes along the way, such as hiking down a 1,600-foot mountain and braving a leper colony (Kalawao County). But he said nothing beat Alaska.

Fetterman, a former Marine who's a trim 60 and still sports a crew cut, remembered flying on a chartered Piper cub into Hooper Bay, out west on the Bering Sea.

"Eskimos were waiting and they took me and the pilot past all these drying fish, and it smelled like whale blubber," he said, "You don't get that on TV. You can read about it in a book, but it's not the same."

His companion, Marge Brown, accompanied him. Brown is a teacher and mayor of their Ohio town. She became an Extra Miler during their 11 years together, but still has reservations. Looking out the window as they soared toward Prudhoe Bay on Alaska's northern shore, for instance, when all she could see was tundra, she had visions of their demise.

"I said, 'My God, this plane goes down, they're never going to find us,' " Brown recalled.

Many members were as impressed by Brown as they were by Fetterman's travels. Few lay claim to enthusiastic companions. For them, the club is a sideline. By day, they are settled teachers, businessmen, farmers, bus drivers, lawyers, and park rangers.

But, oh, to be understood by someone who sees the world as a Monopoly board with counties, countries, even continents they "need" or "don't have yet," Extra Milers say, who feels the push to get states "down" and shares the rush that comes with "completing" a state. Someone who sees a business meeting in Topeka, Kan., as an opportunity to drive from New York and "knock off" a few counties, even if it means driving overnight and racking up speeding tickets. Someone who can rattle off the number of Washington counties (27) or see the humor in Deaf Smith County, Texas, or Hooker County, Neb. Perhaps they even know if Hazzard County, popularized by "The Dukes of Hazzard" television show, does border Chickasaw County, Ga., where the Duke boys used to flee. (Neither exists, though there are Chickasaw counties in Iowa and Mississippi.)

As members rose during the meeting to share their counts, those who had made little progress often blamed resistant families. They don't understand that seeing Niagara Falls is not the same as seeing all 62 New York counties, one man said. They're not road geeks like us, offered another. Somebody mentioned Roy Klotz, the Extra Miler who fooled his wife into thinking he got lost on family trips instead of telling her he was collecting counties along the way. Others admit to following his example, "klotzing" spouses into secret detours. Not a good plan, Williamson reminded them: Once when Klotz was sharing his story at a meeting, his wife sneaked in and his plan was foiled.

It's not surprising that members resort to subterfuge; many see collecting as a race, with added pressure as they near the finish. The monthly newsletter includes an "Extra Mile Post" listing each member's latest total. A handful of the most senior members are within a few counties of completing, including John Fitzgerald, a clean-cut Chicagoan who said that until recently, he was leading the pack in Illinois with 2,632 counties.

"I know it's not a competition, but I noticed in the newsletter that somebody else from Illinois has jumped ahead of me," Fitzgerald told the group. "I used to be number one."

He hadn't seen his rival at the meeting, and figured that since he had hit a few new counties during the trip east, "I may be ahead. Unless he's out there doing something I don't know about."

Fitzgerald drove east because flying over counties doesn't count. Some travel by bicycle, but most only check off counties they've driven through, as the club's late cofounders did. Both were license plate collectors who started Extra Milers 31 years ago to keep track of counties they visited to find plates and attend Automobile License Plate Collectors Association conventions. Many Extra Milers insist on driving to the county seat, photographing themselves there or at the county line. Some even travel with metal detectors to collect a piece of metal near each county seat.

Like so many collecting compulsions -- license plates, stamps, toothpick holders -- county counting tends to spawn similar pursuits. Most Extra Milers say the more they see, the more they want to learn and "collect." Williamson also belongs to the Highpointers Club, whose members climb the highest point in each of the states (see accompanying story), he "collects" lighthouses, and plans to see each state bird in its home state. Fetterman wants to visit every continent, Natale every major league ballpark. There are Extra Milers who have tried to eat a Big Mac at every McDonald's in America, a Blizzard at each state's Dairy Queen.

As Fetterman said of their quest: "It can be completed, but you're consumed by it. It's a beautiful America, from sea to shining sea."

Molly Hennessy-Fiske is a freelance writer in Albany, N.Y.
From the Boston Globe

Friday, January 19, 2007

Counties and their Equivilants

Entering Denali Borough, Alaska

How many counties are there in the United States? That's a question often asked a county counter, and the normal answer is 3,141 - as of January 2007. However, that answer is not exactly correct. Only 48 of the 50 states have jurisdictions which go by the name of "County."

Louisiana is divided not into counties but Parishes, reflecting the French and Catholic heritage of that state. Alaska has neither counties nor parishes, but rather two other geographical divisions - Boroughs and Census Areas. A Borough is organized very similarly to a town, with a mayor and council, however it may cover a much wider area than the typical "town." For example, the North Slope Borough of northernmost Arctic Alaska is larger than the states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland combined, yet with a population of only about 7,350. Many of these live in small remote Eskimo villages. A census area in Alaska is a geographical division which is administered by the state and has not been incorporated into a borough for local government.

Another county equivalent is the Independent City, which does not lie within the boundaries of a county. There are 42 such independent cities which exist in four states. These include: St. Louis, Missouri; Baltimore, Maryland and Carson City, Nevada. All of the remaining independent cities are within the state of Virginia. This makes Virginia particularly challenging for the county counter because many of the 39 independent cities are small and scattered among the state's 95 counties, giving Virginia a total of 134 jurisdictions.
In addition to counties, parishes, boroughs, census areas and independent cities, there is one other unique county equivalent - the Federal District. This is, of course, the District of Columbia, or Washington, D.C.
So here is a breakdown of the counties or their equivalents in the United States:
3,007 entities named “County”
16 Boroughs in Alaska
11 Census Areas in Alaska
64 Parishes in Louisiana
42 Independent Cities
1 Federal District or District of Columbia.
3,141 Total Counties or equivalents
The above does not include Commonwealths or Territories, which are not technically within the United States and therefore do not concern the typical County Counter. These are:
Puerto Rico - 78 Municipios
U.S. Virgin Islands - 2 Districts
Guam - 19 election districts
Northern Mariana Islands - 17 districts
American Samoa - 5 districts

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Build Your Own County Travel Map Online

My Arkansas State/County Map

Anyone who collects counties will also enjoy coloring in the maps of the counties he or she has visited. The most fun county travel map you can make is by using a very interesting free website built and maintained by Marty O'Brien. Marty cleverly calls his site: "Why do you think they call them counties?"

Visitors to the site can record their counties by using a guest account. However, most will want to have their own permament page. You can get one by emailing Marty at the addresss you will find on the site. Just click on "How do I get an account?" on the left side of the front page.

One of the great things about the site is that it allows you to keep up with your progress in comparison to others who are in the same pursuit. There are also interactive maps in which you can compare your own county map side-by-side with those of a fellow traveler. These features help make it even more interesting, and are an incentive to those with a competetive nature. There are also several county related bits of information and other items of interst.

It may take Marty a short time to get back to you for your account to be activated, but remember that he does this for free, out of the goodness of his heart. I greatly appreciate this very valuable service he offers to us County Counters.

Here's the Link:

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Counting Begins

There are 3,141 counties (or their equivalents) in the United States of America, and there are a relative handful of obsessed people who are hell-bent on visiting every one of them at least once in their lifetimes. I'm one of those people - a County Counter.

I began collecting states as a child, traveling across the country with my Dad and brothers. But it was not until 1995, at the age of 50, that I consciously began counting counties. I had taken a vacation to New England, and on that trip fulfilled a lifetime dream by visiting my 49th and 50th states, New Hampshire and Maine. After spending a couple of days exploring a few spots in New Hampshire (Mt. Washington, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, etc.) It was time to travel on to Maine. I felt it somehow appropriate that I should visit my 50th state at the age of 50.

It was a momentous occasion for me, so I parked the car on the side of the road about 50 yards short of the Maine state line on US-2 and ceremoniously walked into Maine as my son, Jeromy, snapped my photo. We were in Oxford County.

Not content to just step across the line I felt I should at least see a little something in the Pine Tree State, although our time was limited. We drove about a dozen miles into Maine to the little town of Bethel, where we got out, walked around the village center and browsed in a couple of the shops. Then we drove all the way back across New Hampshire to Vermont where we spent the night in a condo.

Feeling proud and satisfied with my accomplishment, I pulled out the road atlas that night to reflect back on my travels - to all 50 of the United States. My feelings were the same I have heard other travelers speak of after reaching the end of a long-time goal - both a sense of elation and of being let down all at the same time. The list of 50 states was complete. I felt I had been everywhere in the country and there was no where new to go - at least not in America.

It was then, while pouring over the atlas, I realized that although I had been in every state there were hundreds of spots on the map that I had not yet explored. That very evening I determined that I would begin my travels again - this time to visit every county. A tingle of excitement swept over me as if experiencing a new revelation. I had a fresh goal; my travels had just begun.

Over the next couple of weeks I carefully went over the records of my past travels and memories with a county map of each state. I listed only the counties for which I had a clear recollection of having visited. I had been to 1,035 counties - less than one-third of the whole. I determined that within the next ten years I would travel to them all, at a little more than 200 counties per year.

It's been 12 years now and I'm still far short of that initial optimistic goal. It's not that I've been slack, but that I had simply underestimated the enormity of the task. As of January 1, 2007, I have now visited 2,518 counties (just over 80% of the total) and have completed every county in 14 states. At my present rate I figure I have a fairly reasonable chance of visiting the last county within the next five years, but not without a very concentrated effort. The counties yet to go keep getting harder to reach.

I have begun this blog to record my personal record, as well as thoughts, statistics, county information and travel adventures. Occasionally I will also be sharing stories of other County Counters like myself. If you happen to discover this blog, and the idea of county counting intrigues you, please check back from time to time as I expect to make updates often. If you have thoughts, ideas or adventures in county counting to share, I'd love to hear from you.