Connecting state and local government leaders
An exhausting Sunday journey: Driving 18.5 hours, crossing 33 county borders and stopping in more than 10 cities and counties. And that’s just the first leg.
EAST GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Just before I hopped in a rental car to start my one-day Route Fifty city-county roadtrip early Sunday morning, something caught my eye in the window of a recently opened and painstakingly curated home accessories and gift store down the street from my apartment in Washington, D.C.
Facing out on the sidewalk was some sort of wooden knick-knack depicting a rough outline of the Lower 48 states dividing the country into two labeled parts: “East Coaster” and “West Coaster.”
Our nation, naturally, is far more complicated than simply the coasts. And those in so-called “flyover country” might feel ignored by the highly populated bookends of the nation.
One of the great things about Government Executive’s Route Fifty is our ability to look at very localized news and feature cool ideas, projects and experiences from state, county and municipal governments across the nation—including the vast but certainly not insignificant “middle” of the county.
While I love roadtips along the East and West coasts, I also love explorations of everywhere in between. (In 2013, I embarked on a solo transcontinental roadtrip following the old Lincoln Highway between New York and San Francisco.)
Early on Sunday morning, starting from the nation’s capital, my destination was in the Midwest.
The guide posts for my journey? An assortment of cities and counties in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Ohio that appeared in photos I took last week in the Seattle Central Library’s reference section. (Yes, an unlikely inspiration for a roadtrip.)
My original intent was, in the span of one day, visit as many of those city and county jurisdictions featured in those books—taking photos of a county or municipal government building along the way—in a swath of territory between Baltimore and Toledo, Ohio, which I would be navigating by memory.
As I drove on my strange path westward, I realized that I could continue this city-county exploration on my return trip to Washington, D.C. So there's more to come.
But what about the first leg? On Sunday, I was able to make it to 10 of my intended 13 stops—with a few unintended stops, too, which helped turned Sunday’s journey into an 18.5 hour day which ended in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Reviewing the route from Sunday, which will be plotted on an interactive map, I visited 30 counties and crossed county borders 33 times. I also traveled through at least two jurisdictions that are independent of any county government: the City of Baltimore, which is separate from Baltimore County, and the District of Columbia. (Trying to figure out the total number of municipal jurisdictions I crossed through would be a daunting task.)
Stay tuned for my dispatches from the trip, which will be rolling out this week! Follow my updates on Twitter at #R50roadtrip.
Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty.