Lisa Ronald, Communications Coordinator, Wilderness50
The Wilderness Act, signed into law on September 3, 1964, continues to be one of the most profound pieces of environmental legislation ever passed, preceding the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act and others. Its purpose is to protect, forever, the wildest places in America, our wilderness areas, and ensure that they remain as wild 50 years from now as they are today. The law itself is one of the few environmental laws that has yet to be substantively amended or challenged. If you think about public lands on a spectrum from wildest to most domesticated, wilderness areas define the wild end of the spectrum, while city parks might represent the most domesticated end.
Because wilderness areas represent the antithesis of domestication—land bent to suit man’s will and need for convenience and comfort—they are increasingly important to ensure that we as a society maintain contrast between what we choose to tame and what we allow to be wild and free-willed. To allow land to remain uncontrolled is an act of human restraint. It is this philosophical notion of free-willed land embodied only in wilderness areas that makes them different and precious. As a visitor, to experience land that is free-willed places you on par with nature, rather than above or separate from it, allowing you to feel that you are part of something powerful and much grander than yourself. On September 3rd, we will celebrate 50 years of American wilderness—a testament to the degree to which wildness and freedom, for both people and land, define American culture.
Since 1964 and the creation of the first wilderness areas, Congress has added over 100 million acres of wilderness lands as a result of America’s continued support for wilderness. Wilderness areas now exist in 46 states and Puerto Rico, and fully half of all wilderness areas are within a day's drive of America's 30 largest cities. Clearly, we have much to celebrate. As such, the Wilderness50 coalition of environmental non-profits, government agencies, universities, businesses and concerned citizens is collectively spearheading over 500 local community events nationwide during 2014 and three major national events slated for this fall:
- The “Wilderness Forever” photography exhibition opens in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. on September 3.
- The Wilderness Week in Washington D.C., September 14-17, is packed with interactions with our political leaders and culminates in a gala dinner event.
- The National Wilderness Conference in Albuquerque, NM, October 15-19, is the wilderness community’s first gathering in 25 years and is designed to:
- Foster dialogue and strategic planning with 1000-1500 government, non-profit, and private sector thought leaders and land stewards to define the future of wilderness stewardship and designation
- Empower 10-20 Youth Leader Wilderness Scholarship Program recipients to attend and implement post-conference projects in their home communities
- Engage 800-1000 youth and teachers through the Wilderness Awareness Trail
- Train 50-100 K-12 teachers to use the Wilderness Investigations standardized curriculum in their classrooms
- Educate and inform 2500-3000 New Mexico residents in the public outdoor 'Get Wild' Festival
The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is proud to be a Wilderness50 partner in celebrating the 50th anniversary of wilderness in 2014—an avowal of America’s purposeful willingness forever to forego in certain special places the prevailing trend toward development. As a partner, the Center will be offering three pre-conference workshops, including two Leave No Trace Awareness Workshops and a 2-day Leave No Trace Trainer Course. For more information about 50th anniversary events and projects, visit http://www.wilderness50th.org
In New Mexico’s Manzano Mountain Wilderness, Student Conservation Association Intern Endion Schichtel led a 50th Anniversary New Year’s Day hike, one of the first local community anniversary events to occur this year. Credit: Endion Schichtel.
Like Smithsonian’s yearly Windland Smith Rice photography awards exhibit, the “Wilderness Forever” photography exhibit opening in September will wow visitors of all ages by showcasing the splendor of our wilderness areas captured by professional, amateur, and student photography winners from last summer’s contest. Credit: © Nature’s Best Photography.