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Trio of travelers visit Alaska on quest to see every US national park

Tommy WellsThe Arctic Sounder
Loren Holmes photo

KOTZEBUE – Michael Barna, Leland Warzala and Mel Gilbert are the living epitome of Johnny Cash's hit song, "I've Been Everywhere."

And they almost have.

The three made a brief stop in Kotzebue recently while en route to visiting each of the region's five national parks. As part of their quest to obtain stamps from the five parks, they planned to fly to sites in the Gates of the Arctic, Cape Krusenstern, Kobuk Valley, Noatak and Bering Land Bridge parks.

"Our goal is to visit every national park in the United States," said Gilbert, who lives in Gilbert, Mo. "We came to Kotzebue so we could get to the five parks in this part of the state."

Gilbert said the three expect to complete their quest within the next few years and join an elite list of the National Park Travelers Club to have visited every U.S. park. To date, only 19 members of the club have accomplished the feat.

Barna, Warzala and Gilbert began their trip as relative strangers. Although each was a member of the club, they met for the first time at Chicago's O'Hare Airport en route to Anchorage. After a brief stay in Anchorage, the trio flew to Kotzebue to begin their quest.

Barna, a school teacher from Milwaukee, is the most experienced park traveler of the three. During his years of traveling, he has visited 351 of the 397 parks located in 49 states.

Leland, of Springfield, Ill., has visited 338 parks in his life, including 227 in the past 18 months.

Gilbert has reached 272 parks in the past nine years.

"Our goal is to go to these places and see what is there, to find out about the culture," said Gilbert. "We've never been here before so it is all new to us."

The three travelers are planning to return to Alaska soon after they leave. All three are planning to attend the club's convention in 2014, which will be held on a cruise through the Southeast.

Check out The National Parks Travelers Club website.

This article was originally published by The Arctic Sounder and is reprinted here with permission.