DENVER – In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt stood at the entrance of Yellowstone National Park and called access to America’s public lands an “essential democracy.”
It provided an equality of opportunity for all people that was absent in other countries, he said.
Despite that, only 22 percent of national park visitors fall into a minority demographic, according to the latest study in 2011.
The lack of diversity has been recognized by multiple publications and documented by the National Parks Service, but is focused on ethnicity and leaves out any gender and sexual orientation disparities as they are not tracked by the NPS.
Mikah Meyer, 31, a gay man from Nebraska, wants to bridge the gap faced by members of the LGBT community by shining a rainbow colored spotlight on America’s 417 national park units – and do so in record time.
His odyssey across the U.S., which began April 29, 2016, didn’t begin that way. He started in a quest to reconnect with a life experience taken from him when his father, Larry Meyer, died.
Meyer was 19 when his father lost his battle with esophageal cancer on April 29, 2005, and missed out on what was a Meyer family tradition: one-on-one road trips to and from college with dad.
Meyer said the tradition was enjoyed by his three sisters as the family didn’t have the means to fly them home after a semester.
“All my sisters said it was during that time that they best got to know my dad,” he said, noting that his father was a pastor who worked with young adults.
When he died, Meyer decided he would follow his father’s example and take yearly trips.
“For me, I feel like these trips are the way for him to teach the lesson he hopefully would have taught me,” he said.
Meyer includes an increased willingness to take risks and not leave things undone or unsaid in his list of lessons learned from his trips.
One day he got a message from a teenager in Texas who had not divulged that he was gay, thanking him for showing that members of the LGBT community can achieve monumental things.
“Once I started getting those messages, I realized that I had a real opportunity to help my community and to break stereotypes.”
Meyer saved money throughout his 20s before quitting his three jobs and contacting outdoor recreational companies for sponsorship, largely without success. Help did come from unexpected quarter, in the form of a “sketchy craigslist ad” for the van, Vanny McVanface, that is taking him across North America.
The van owner gave Meyer an interest free loan because he, too, had gone on a journey after his wife’s death.
Meyer is working to pay the remaining $5,000 he owes, in part by promoting the sale of candles on the website he runs to document his journey.
Meyer has picked up a social media following and some sponsorships. including Pilot Flying J, a company that owns a chain of gas stations and is covering his fuel costs.
Meyer, who holds a graduate degree in classical music from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, also sings at churches and accepts donations.
“Basically I show up for free and I sing and everything for free, and I tell my story and offer the public a chance to support this project if they want to help,” he said.
But some people see it as an individual looking for a handout to fund a grand vacation, he said.
“You’re not donating to me going on vacation, you’re donating to sharing the parks with the world, you’re donating to encourage youth involvement, you’re donating to create a LGBT role model,” Meyer said.
He has been to 153 sites, the first of which was the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. and the latest of which was Mesa Verde National Park on Wednesday.
He plans to end the trip May 19, 2019, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, less than a mile from where he started
He has his sights on a career afterwards: LGBT representative in the outdoor recreation industry, which he says is noticeably absent.
“I hope that by doing this big crazy trip it will put me in a position where I can be that mainstream travel show person that doesn’t exist right now,” he said.
Mikah Meyer, a countertenor formerly with the Washington National Cathedral Choirs, will be a guest soloist at the 10 a.m. Sunday service St. Barnabas Church’s, Cortez.
All are welcome.
Call 970-565-7865 for more information.