Matt Treat is halfway to his goal of visiting every U.S. national park. During the pandemic, Treat, 66, said – like most people – he started thinking about places to visit that were lightly populated and not overseas. National parks naturally came to mind, and as travel restrictions were lifted, Treat said he started to pick up his pace. He said he’s made it to 31 of America’s 63 national parks.
Treat owns the Inn at Lynden, a boutique hotel in the century-old Waples Mercantile Building in downtown Lynden, along with his wife and adventure partner, Teri. When their schedules allow, Teri and son Cooper join the quest.
The Northern Light caught up with Treat, whose recent adventures include an Alaska trip to the Kenai Fjords and remote cabins in Lake Clark. Questions and answers were edited for length and clarity.
The Northern Light: How do you plan to make it to all of them?
Treat: Once I started thinking about this, it seemed like the trips fell into two categories. It was an incidental category, where if I was going to go somewhere, for other reasons, I’d immediately look at the map and think about what I could hit while I was there.
For instance, I went to a wedding in Kentucky last summer and saw the Smoky Mountains were close. I went to a graduation in Minnesota, and there’s a park north of St. Paul called Isle Royale.
Then there’s more intentional trips, where I plot a trip that allows me to bag more than one park. That’s where the Florida trip came in. A really good friend and myself went down, and we hit Everglades, Dry Tortugas and Biscayne.
I’m really a water person, and there were airboats involved and kayaks and canoes and snorkeling and paddleboards. It was a great way to see three parks.
How do you keep track?
All the parks have a patch. I just grab a patch every time, and I’ve got a magnet board that I put them up on.
What was the first national park you ever visited?
Probably the Grand Canyon. I’m counting some that I went to as a kid – that brings up an unwritten rule for me too. Now that I’ve decided to do this, I feel like if I’m going to count it, I have to have had an adventure. Maybe I stay overnight and go for a hike or raft.
What activities have you done?
There’s parks in the Dakotas that are close enough where I could get all three of them in a reasonably short period of time. And it sounds like there’s some great mountain biking in those parks. (Those parks are Badlands and Wind Cave in South Dakota, and Theodore Roosevelt in North Dakota.)
You have to be prepared to be adventurous and do some driving. I don’t want to spend the whole time in the car, so I try to hit more than one.
That’s another thing: If I can’t find somebody to go with me, I’ll go solo, but it’s really fun to go with someone. It’s also fun to go with somebody who has some knowledge that you don’t, like a geologist or – I’m a mildly interested birder – but my friend Bill is an avid birder. It really adds to the trip when you’ve got somebody along who can point out things that you otherwise would have missed.
Are there any parks you particularly recommend?
If you could get to the Dry Tortugas, that’s fantastic. You drive out to the end of the Florida Keys and either get on a boat or plane. You can fly out, just to see it from the air, and camp there. It takes a lot of planning but it’s an amazing place for snorkeling, the view is spectacular and the history is amazing.
How long do you spend in the parks?
To really count it, like I said, you have to do something there. So you’re at least there a day. I went to the Channel Islands recently, and that was three days. That was really great, too. Those are down the coast of California. The ferry ride went through an enormous school of dolphins getting to the island.
But it can be anywhere from an overnight trip to a multiday trip. This depends on how much there is to do and how much you want to do. The other thing, I research enough to know the things that I don’t want to miss. But I don’t look at YouTube, and I don’t do a lot of other research, because I don’t want to spoil the effect of seeing it firsthand.
If I’m going through the trouble to get there, I make sure to see all the things worth seeing.
Do you have a favorite so far?
There’s a favorite trip. The Everglades really stands out to me. I did another great trip where we hit four parks down in the southwest with White Sands, Carlsbad Caverns, Guadalupe Mountains and Big Bend.
Voyageurs in Minnesota is a really memorable trip too, especially if you like to fish. The fishing and canoeing opportunities there are amazing.
Katmai in Alaska as well. There’s something about standing on the bear observation deck and watching bears catching salmon out of midair standing in the waterfalls that is pretty incredible. That’s hard to top.
Were any underwhelming?
I found Joshua Tree a little underwhelming. It must have been the wrong day for me. If you’re a climber it’s a fabulous place.
There are also things that are surprising, like I’ve always thought of the Rio Grande as this huge, magnificent river and the Rio Grande these days, at the least parts of it where we were, is just a trickle. You can walk across the Rio Grande on stepping-stones. It was surprising how far down the water level has gotten. I don’t know if it’s irrigation and climate change, but it was eye opening.
Which did you find the most beautiful?
All are really beautiful. I mean, really, in their own way. But I think the one that surprised me for beauty was Death Valley. I didn’t go there expecting that place to be beautiful and it was fabulous and colorful. Eerie, kind of, so unusual. Especially I think the viewing at dusk and at sunset, where the light got a little bit longer. The colors of the rocks and the sand and the stone all got more vibrant.
Did you meet any cool people you remember?
I went to Death Valley by myself. I ended up sitting at a bar one night to have something to eat, and there was a guy on my left and a gal on my right. It turns out they both were doing the exact same thing I was. They were park questers. It was really great talking to both of them about which parks they’d been to, which ones they recommend, which ones they’ve had adventures in. It was really fun trading notes and talking parks.
What have you learned?
You don’t have to leave the borders of our country to find unique, unusual and amazing places. You might not get the same level of cultural change that you would by going overseas, but there are definitely cultural differences too. It’s been eye opening for me as far as how much there is to see and do inside our own country.
This article was originally published in Mount Baker Experience, a publication of Point Roberts Press, which also publishes The Northern Light. The fall 2023 edition of Mount Baker Experience can be found online at mountbakerexperience.com, at businesses around Whatcom County, and on every Washington State ferry.
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