Wilderness Act turns 50

Get out there and celebrate

Despite the last several weeks of excitement and partying, summer is winding down and the quiet of fall is coming quickly to Crested Butte and the upper valley. Town is emptying of visitors, and the backcountry is beckoning locals with promises of solitude, adventure and wildness. It’s time to get out there, time to celebrate wilderness.


This September marks the 50th anniversary of the United States Wilderness Act, legislation that established a National Wilderness Preservation System to be “administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use as wilderness, and so as to provide for the protection of these areas, the preservation of their wilderness character, and for the gathering and dissemination of information regarding their use and enjoyment as wilderness.”
“For me, our wildest places are our best places,” said Colorado nature photographer and recent visitor to Crested Butte John Fielder. “Wilderness is an unequalled stabilizing force that is always there and that connects us with our beginnings. The personal sense of security derived from things permanent, like wilderness and God, is more important now than ever before as the world becomes more crowded and chaotic… To explore vast wildernesses, we must abandon worldly schedules and immerse ourselves in the flows and patterns of nature—rise with the sun, sleep with the darkness, huddle from the storm.”
By signing the Wilderness Act in 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson took steps to preserve wilderness in perpetuity by insuring that nation’s expanding population did not take over the natural world in its entirety. The legislation, along with the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act is a predominant force for the preservation and protection of the environment.
“The Wilderness Act is an important part for achieving a well-balanced land management system and it provides important wildlife refuges and helps us keep our air and water clean,” said High County Conservation Alliance public lands director Alli Melton. “At the headwaters of the Colorado River, we directly and immediately benefit from wilderness. We have close access, thriving wildlife, as well as clean air and water. We also know that these areas will remain pristine so generations to come can enjoy them just as we do.”
Upon its signing the Act created 9.1 million acres of wilderness—areas “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
Since then Congress has added more than 100 million acres to the system and created 758 unique wilderness areas.
Locally those additions have been felt in spades. According to the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest Ranger District, 498,152 acres of the three million-acre forest are designated as wilderness. Wilderness designated areas include: Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, Fossil Ridge Wilderness, La Garita Wilderness, Lizard Head Wilderness, Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, Mt. Sneffels Wilderness, Powderhorn Wilderness, Raggeds Wilderness, Uncompahgre Wilderness and West Elk Wilderness.
These areas act as permanent preserves for Wilderness values such as adventure, solitude, clean air and water, scenery and wildlife—things that can’t be bought and sold, said Fielder.
“It is one thing to view photographs of nature in a book or on a wall, entirely another to be in nature,” he said. “There is no substitute for tasting, smelling, feeling, hearing, as well as seeing nature. The sensuousness of the natural world is the best recruiter of advocates to protect and preserve the miracle of four billion years of the evolution of life on Earth.”
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the GMUG has focused many of its 2014 programs on the celebration and continued preservation of wilderness for future generations. According to GMUG’s public affairs officer Lee Ann Loupe, the Forest Service programming has included wilderness awareness workshops for teens and younger students, emphasizing the principals of “Leave No Trace” land-use etiquette. GMUG has held library programs, film festivals, guest speakers and forums, wilderness walks, backpacking trips, and demonstrations of wilderness rangers using the tools of their trade.
In further celebration of the 50th anniversary, Loupe said, the GMUG ranger districts will be featuring photos taken by the public of local wilderness areas on the GMUG website. Send photo submissions to gmugnationalforest@gmail.com, provide the name of the wilderness and your name if you would like photo credit.
To learn more about local Wilderness areas, and the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Wilderness Act, visit www.fs.usda.gov/gmug. To see John Fielder’s work visit his website at www.johnfielder.com, or plan to attend the culmination of his 2014 Wilderness 50 Tour on October 25 in Denver. More information is available on his website.

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