A Scientific Search for the Most Remote Places in the United States
For the past four years, Ryan and Rebecca Means have been identifying and documenting the remotest place in each of the 50 states for their ongoing research expedition, Project Remote. The feeling of remoteness, of course, is a qualitative metric; how remote someone feels depends on experience and perspective. (Have I been up Mt. Monadnock, the favored peak of Emerson and Thoreau? How about Everest?)
The Meanses, being scientists, wanted a quantitative definition, and to establish a simple standard assessment that could easily be repeated. A state's "Remote Spot," as the two wildlife biologists and ecologists define it, is that point that is the farthest from a road or a town. They are now two states away from documenting the entire Eastern United States. The average distance from a road for the 19 states they have documented so far? A scant five miles. In all but one of these spots, they heard or saw evidence of other humans during a 15-minute evaluation.
The project was hatched in the fall of 2009, when the two were walking on a beach in their home state of Florida. They loved their state, but given its over-development, they wondered if it was still possible to find a place to escape cities, and civilization, for a little while. They were new parents to a 10-month-old, and took their daughter along on their first expedition, to a stretch of beach in the Everglades they determined to be Florida’s mainland Remote Spot (they now include islands in their calculations, and have honed in on the Marquesas Keys, a ring of islands formed by a meteorite and protected as part of Key West National Wildlife Refuge).
Skyla, now three, has made it to the Remote Spots of 19 states and counting. The Meanses are now beginning calculations for Project Remote Out West, and are gearing up to spend the late summer and early fall on a five-state push through the Plains, ending in Montana and Idaho.
I haven’t truly been backpacking since my son Felix was born. He turns three this July. What do I want to teach him about what’s left of the American wilderness, and how to take care of it? The Meanses have invited me on their Western drive, and I’m strongly considering joining them, and bringing my son along for the journey.
Florida Mainland Remote Spot
Pennsylvania Remote Spot (left); Vermont Remote Spot (right)
"Ninety-five percent of the 19 state Remote Spots we documented thus far are on some kind of conservation land,” Rebecca told me. "That doesn’t mean they are free from the threat of development -- just that we as Americans have a say in how these remote areas are protected." Given the ever-encroaching network of roads and technology on our last wild places, their mission to scientifically document what’s left of the remoteness of the American landscape, state by state -- while bringing their kid along -- is at once quixotic and hopeful.
Top image: Virginia Remote Spot