Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Celebrating 50 years of the Wilderness Act on a pristine north country lake

A consortium of wilderness advocacy groups and federal agencies rendezvoused this week in Albuquerque, N.M., to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the landmark 1964 Wilderness Act. The Oct. 15-19 Wilderness 50 Conference is an event I wanted to attend, but it conflicted with MEA weekend, an annual few days my family uses to travel together. 

Last year, we visited the Aldo Leopold Shack in central Wisconsin. This year, we rented a cabin along a cold north country lake for some fishing. When the fish weren’t biting, we headed to a small wilderness area for hiking and marveling at the fall colors. Between high winds keeping us off the lake and a poor bite in between, we spent a lot of time walking trails.

During the evening, I monitored the conference via hashtag #wilderness50 on Twitter. Before highlighting a few inspirational thoughts I saw last night and this morning, allow me to clearly state my position on wilderness.

I love wilderness and believe America, especially the Lower 48, needs more of it. The U.S. government, particularly the Department of Interior and U.S. Forest Service, should take the money it’s plugging into multi-million dollar visitor centers (and staffing) and other “people habitat” initiatives and invest it in acquiring additional wilderness lands. One acre at a time. Expand it. Protect it. Designate wilderness permanently to ensure God’s most incredible chunks of creation stay beautiful forever.

Do those beliefs make me a protectionist? Hell yes, and I don’t consider that insult, rather a badge of honor. 

Conference attendee Elizabeth Hightower (@ehightowerallen) wrote on Twitter that speaker Dave Foreman implored attendees, “If you have any access whatsoever to kids. Get ‘em outside!”

Amen. While Foreman was making that statement, my kids were knocking out a six-mile hike that included tumbling over a set of bear tracks meandering down a portage to a lake. My boys followed them along the shoreline a quarter mile before they disappeared into the woods.

We only encountered animal tracks, and when looking for solitude, that’s not a bad thing. But it illustrates a trend I see in the Boundary Waters and other areas: fewer kids, and people in general, recreating on these lands. Other writers have documented declining numbers of visitors in wilderness areas and an increasing average age among those still showing up.

Whether it’s canoe country or the intermountain west, my boys absolutely love running wild and exploring a wilderness landscape. Even our 3-year-old daughter has feral moments when she tastes fresh air and endless trails. I don’t think it’s unique to my children, either, but more than once, we’ve encountered pairs of aging boomers five miles from a road amazed to see children so far afield. Too few citizens are tackling America’s roadless areas, and without those firsthand experiences, these lands lose their value among our citizens.

This has been a regular personal demand whenever the state and its nonprofit partners launch new wildlife management areas in Minnesota. The most common lament I’ve heard among people interested in hunting is the challenge of finding a place to hunt. OK, so use these lands. Show the nation’s decision-makers that there is demand for public access and places where hearty souls still strap on a pair of hiking boots and pack out their deer, elk, moose, or elk grouse or pheasant, on foot.

Finally, here are some important or otherwise inspirational comments from the conference via Twitter #wilderness50.

@pewenvironment: Every president, Republican and Democrat, since LBJ (who signed the legislation) has signed a wilderness law.

@writerfarmer: Fighting to protect your country, your land is one of the most patriotic acts you can take. – Rachel Carson, as quoted at #wilderness50

@aaronklemz: Sen. Martin Henirich of New Mexico told attendees, “I make no apologies for believing that some public lands are so special that they cannot be improved upon.”

@orion_magazine: Great Swamp wilderness in NJ is more natural and wild than when it was designated in the 1960s. And 25 miles from NY City!

@friendsBWCAW: “We’re told that it’s imperialistic, that wilderness separates human and nature. But they don’t have a clue.”

@Wildforgood: Powerful words from @TempestWilliams: we need to reimagine our movement, leadership will come only from each of us.

Share on Social


Hand-Picked For You

Related Articles