Grand County marks 3,143st county for Schoenl

photo by Kim Cameron
photo by Kim Cameron

Over the last two decades, David Schoenl has purposefully taken the longest meandering route between his destinations. He is a “county collector,” and has visited every county or its equivalent in the United States, for a total of 3,143 counties.

His travels to every county was completed in 22 years, 7 months, and 29 days, and came to its grand finale on the morning of August 5 at the pinnacle of Berthoud Pass as he crossed over from Clear Creek County to Grand County. His achievement was completed just three days shy of his 47th birthday.

Grand County was chosen as his final destination because of its name and because it offered family friendly hiking and touring for his mom, dad , aunt, uncle, sisters, brother, nieces, nephew and friends who joined him in celebrating. Schoenl officially began his first county count in his home state of New York in Onondaga County in 1994 after his fraternity brother and friend, Joel Deichmann, shared his own quest and invited him to join his travels.

Schoenl was working for State Farm in New York after graduating from the State University of New York at Geneseo and Deichmann was a graduate student in Cincinnati when they took their first road trip together from Syracuse to Cincinnati and down to Texas. Deichmann laughed, “There was a lot of nights where we slept in Walmart parking lots for three hours and drank cups of coffee to keep going. We didn’t have a lot of money.”

The duo would volunteer to help friends move across country if they could “zig zag” along the route, and when Schoenl relocated to Alabama and later Covington, Georgia, they were able to pick up even more counties.

“A lot of our travel was spontaneous,” said Schoenl who counted the counties when the county line was crossed.

They would then travel together when their schedules aligned but they also took many solo trips. Often they would travel with Rich Spoon, who was Joel’s boss and friend . He mentored Deichmann and actually inspired him to begin collecting counties.

Unfortunately, Spoon was unable to travel to all the counties. He died in 2008 due to heart complications. Both Schoenl and Deichmann are poignantly aware of Spoon’s influence and toasted him with a beer from Left Hand Brewing Company, a Longmont Colorado Brewery under the Grand County sign at the top of Berthoud Pass.Deichmann who made sure that Schoenl was properly attired in a Winter Park, Colorado shirt for all his photos said he had arrived in Grand County earlier and looked for a Grand County shirt but couldn’t find one, so he settled for the nearest town to the county line. Deichmann was returning the favor to Schoenl who had traveled to Alaska three years previously in 2014 to watch him cross over into his last county, East Aleutians Borough. Schoenl presented Deichmann with a sweatshirt from Sand Point, Alaska.

Over the years, Schoenl has kept track of the counties he has visited on a poster sized map. At one point, he had forgotten that he was in a county , but had received a citation from the local sheriff for speeding. Fortunately he got off with just a warning and it provided documentation he had been there.

“It was easy to collect the first ones, but then became harder as he headed west which required more planning,” said Schoenl. Many of the final states required travel by plane, boat and in Hawaii he had to ride a mule to Kalaupapa in Kalawao County.

At one time, Schoenl was a member of the Extra Miler Club, which was founded in 1973 to help track those collecting counties. He allowed his membership to lapse, so he won’t join the estimated 50 others who have completed the same voyage and registered, but friends and family marked his achievement with banners and a signed letter from Grand County Clerk and Recorder Sara Rosene.

Schoenl now plans to travel to as many countries as he can and has already traveled to more than 30.