A path for planting

Mike Repas stops for a quick night's rest in the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana.

For most people, finishing a masters’ degree is a major feat in itself. Mike Repas had just finished his third. Pair that with working a full-time job for an industrial supply company, and it was safe to say he was ready for a change of pace.

“To put it politely, I was absolutely burnt out,” Repas laughed.

Repas has always had a passion for camping and the outdoors. So when he finally decided to take a well-earned break from academics and work, he knew exactly what he wanted to do.

“I always dreamed of solo camping all 50 states in a row in an overlanding rig of my own design,” Repas said. “I decided I’d make my plan and make it happen.”

Repas figured he’d need about four months to visit every US state (he would later add the District of Columbia and all 10 of the Canadian provinces to the list). Before embarking on the trip, he worked to assemble his ultimate convenience-and-economy overlanding rig: a 2017 Nissan Titan XD 4-wheel-drive, 5/8-ton four-door pickup, topped with a tent.

As an Eagle Scout, Repas had always practiced “no trace camping”, a way of camping that works to avoid human-created impacts. But as he was finalizing his prep, Repas had a realization. Rather than trying to leave no trace, what if he set his sights on intentionally leaving a positive trace?

After giving it some thought, Repas decided he would try to plant one tree sapling in every location he visited.

“I don’t care for souvenirs. You buy them and just eventually end up throwing them away anyway,” Repas said. “So I thought, what if leave a tree instead as a way of commemorating this trip and helping me to remember all of the places I stay and people I meet along the way?”

Repas would use a GPS to mark waypoints of where the trees had been planted, then create a coordinates map at trip’s end.

 Planting an oak tree in Bellevue's Two Springs Park
(From left to right) Graham Herbst, Brian Madison, Michael Repas, and Don Preister plant an oak tree in Bellevue's Two Springs Park.
Fast forward from his July 25th departure and Repas is a little over halfway through his journey, planting native trees in public parks and campgrounds. One of his latest stops included the Two Springs Park in Bellevue. It was there that he, City of Bellevue Parks Superintendent Brian Madison, City Councilman Don Preister, and Nebraska Forest Service Forester Graham Herbst planted three oak trees near the park’s trail. “A project like this brings public attention to the need for continuing to reforest our communities,” Herbst said. “The spirit of John ‘Appleseed’ Chapman is alive in Mike and he is in good company here in the Tree Planters' State!”

While he’s run into some obstacles and hasn’t had a 100 percent success rate in being able to plant at every one his stops; he’s satisfied with the experience. He even hopes he might return someday and see which saplings survived.

“It’s satisfying to see how happy it’s made people I’ve met along the way. I can also genuinely say it’s been the healthiest experience of my life,” Repas said.