Wilderness Act celebrates its 40th birthday in relative silence
Maybe I missed something, but I haven’t seen much coverage this year about the birthday of the Wilderness Act.In September, 1964, Congress established a National Wilderness Preservation System, “to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.” Little did I know how much this act would affect my life.During that time I was in college at the University of New Mexico and became friends with Jeff Ingram, the southwest representative of the Sierra Club. We visited a number of wild places in the southwest to see what might be recommended for inclusion in the wilderness system.One memorable journey included land adjacent to the Gila Wilderness, which became the nation’s first established wilderness area in 1924. It is also the largest wilderness area in the southwest.We ended up in a very remote area where the only way out was along the Gila River. We placed our packs on our stomachs and floated feet first for what seemed like forever.I’ll never forget the feeling of freedom that first infected me while floating through wilderness. Experiencing authentic solitude strengthens the spirit and feeds my longing to know more of God’s untouched creation.A few years later I would take a week-long solo backpack trip across the entire Gila Wilderness from south to north. Other human beings were encountered only twice. The first time was when I indulged in luxury at the Gila Hot Springs to relieve my aching muscles.The next person I saw in the wilderness was the fireguard stationed at the Black Mountain lookout at the end of my hike.Jeff once set me up for a backcountry horseback trip with the wilderness ranger stationed at McKittrick Canyon, which became part of Guadalupe National Park when it was established in 1966.That trip resulted in me speaking at a conservation conference in Santa Fe along with pioneer wilderness advocates as Dave Brower and Elliott Porter, author of “In Wildness is the Preservation of the World.” My passion for wilderness was growing.After college I ended up putting out fires in wilderness areas across the West, places like the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.As a result of those early pilgrimages into wilderness areas I purposely seek out wild places to hike and camp to renew my spirit and passion. The Flat Tops is my favorite and the Holy Cross Wilderness is a close second.To say that wilderness heals my soul when I am wounded by our modern fast-paced, insane world would be an understatement. It is even more difficult to try and express how the Creator seems closer while unencumbered with life’s burdens.To strip down life’s essentials to what can be carried on one’s back is a light burden to bear when the wilderness beckons.Maybe it’s just as well that the Wilderness Act’s 40th birthday has come and gone without much notice. That way maybe Nature’s last refuge will remain uncrowded.Writing from more than 25 years of experience in federal land management agencies, Bill Kight, of Glenwood Springs, shares his stories with readers every other week.Writing from more than 25 years of experience in federal land management agencies, Bill Kight, of Glenwood Springs, shares his stories with readers every other week.
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