“Wilderness is a necessity…There must be places for human beings to satisfy their souls. ~John Muir
We typically celebrate anniversaries that commemorate milestones in marriage or one’s longevity in the workplace. “She’s worked here for 35 years!” Today’s notable date is the 50th. anniversary of the Wilderness Act, a piece of legislation that could not be passed in 2014, yet in 1964 somehow had the support of majority in Congress.
In such an industrialized nation as ours, wilderness is a most radical concept. In the original bill, we read poetry: A wilderness is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” Nine million acres were immediately created into the National Wilderness Preservation System 50 years ago and today there are 100 million acres of federal wilderness enmeshed in National Parks, National Forests, BLM and National Wildlife Refuge lands.
No roads, no developments, simply “areas where the earth and its communities of life are left unchanged by people, where the primary forces of nature are in control.”
In Oregon and Washington we are fortunate to have an array of wilderness areas within reach. Mt Adams and Mt. Hood, the glories of the Three Sisters and even a few wild dimples on the Oregon Coast: Cummins Creek, Rock Creek, and Drift Creek. Driving through the Columbia River Gorge, it is the Mark Hatfield Wilderness Area that dominates the scenic delights from Multnomah Falls to Viento State Park.
Perhaps the wildest place of them all, Devil’s Staircase in the Coast Range, has not been officially designated, so there is always the possibility of future tampering. While this a moment to ponder and pursue new wilderness, my hope for celebrating this anniversary is to urge us to experience our present wilderness areas, to go solo, or better yet, take a child or a child at heart into a wild place to satisfy our souls.
“The year the Wilderness Act went into effect, I was a 19-year-old wrangling horses on pack trips into the Teton Wilderness in Wyoming. All these years later, I’m still glad to be stunned, stopping to slide my fingers down the sidewalls of an elk’s hoofprint, edging head and shoulders out into the currents of air tumbling over the creek to inhale the ozone.” Barry Lopez