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Finding Michigan's most remote spot

When was the last time you were someplace so remote, you didn’t see another person, or even a road for miles?

Getting that far away from civilization can be hard to do in the U.S. But a husband and wife team from Florida is setting out to do that. Rebecca and Ryan Means are both wildlife ecologists, and they started Project Remote. They’re mapping and visiting the most remote spots in all 50 states. They're preparing to go remote along the Canadian border in a few weeks, visiting Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana and Idaho.

Ryan Means says they got started on their mission a few years ago.

“We’ve always been interested in remote areas and as biologists and outdoor enthusiasts in general. Then about three years ago, we realized that with the advent of GIS computer software capabilities, coupled with Rebecca’s, my wife’s, great proficiency using this kind of technology, we could actually calculate remote areas,” he says.

The couple says it's important to them to include their daughter, Skyla.

"We're hoping that through our experiences, the good and the bad, we can help other families get out into remote areas or just go camping and get outside."

“We’re doing it as a family – we started off when Skyla was about 10 months old and she’s now four and a half, and we’re hoping that through our experiences, the good and the bad, we can help other families get out into remote areas or just go camping and get outside as well,” says Rebecca.

So, how do these scientists define the word "remote?"

“We had to refine our definition and make it simple, yet powerful, and what we settled on is simply – a remote spot is that point in a state that is the maximum distance from a road,” says Ryan.

Rebecca chimes in:

“Because roads do have such a huge ecological impact on our landscape and the importance of roads really stuck with us in terms of wildlife and vehicle collisions and destruction of habitat and barriers to gene flow, there’s a whole list of ecological impacts of roads. But additionally, it’s quantifiable, and a lot of times people talk about ‘remote’ and it’s really a qualitative feeling, it’s kind of something that you feel, but we as scientists, wanted a quantitative definition such that we could compare from state to state, and also in ten years from now, we could go back and recalculate and see how remoteness has changed in our country,” she says.

"We let out a very loud 'woo-hoo!'

When the Means family arrives at the most remote spot in each state, they take a moment to celebrate, and then, they try to measure "the extent to which humanity can be detected from a remote spot."

Take a listen to what Rebecca and Ryan do the minute they reach the most remote spot.

Okay, quiz time... where do you think the most remote place in Michigan is?

Hint: it's 16.5 miles from a road, which Ryan Means says is "rather large, relatively speaking, for states east of the Mississippi."

"It’s an island in Lake Superior, and it’s an island off of an island as a matter of fact. Isle Royale is the big island nearby, but there’s a little string of islands…" Ryan says, and pauses. "Honey… do you know what it’s called?”

The answer? Long Island.

Lots of backcountry travel

Rebecca Means has been working on finding each state's most remote place. So far, she's calculated the remote spots for 29 states (they've visited 19 states so far). The average distance you can get from a road is 6.8 miles with a minimum of 1.5 miles and a max of 18.0 miles.

Here are some stats on the 19 states the Means have visited so far on their journey:

  • Average Distance From a Road:  5.0 miles (max was FL at 17.0; min was CT Mainland at 1.1)
  • Average Distance From a Trail (of the 10 land-based Spots):  0.2 miles
  • Total Travel Miles:  342
  • Total Hiking Miles:  141
  • Total Boating Miles:  201
  • Percent with Cell Phone Coverage:  63%
  • Percent within Conservation Land:  95%
  • Percent with Human Sound Recorded During a 15-minute Remote Spot Assessment:  94%
  • Percent Reachable in 1 Day*:  74%

*We are able to travel to and document the Spot then return to our point of departure in 1 day
Have baby, will travel

It's probably safe to say that trekking across wilderness with a baby, who became a toddler, then a preschooler, has not been the easiest pursuit. But Rebecca and Ryan say their daughter, Skyla, is resilient and adaptable. They admit traveling with a little kid can be much harder on her parents sometimes, but they say they wouldn't dream of going without her.

“We want her to imprint on nature and not on electronics. Her entertainment has always been the woods and the plants, learning plants, and those kinds of experiences. And also, just the sense of – the ability to do things, the confidence to do things and be a capable child or a capable young lady out in the woods, and learning how to set up a tent and be self sufficient,” says Rebecca Means.

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.