Kristen Lodge: Why wilderness matters
Ryan Summerlin November 19, 2010
“We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.” – Wallace Stegner’s Wilderness Letter, December 3, 1960
Why Wilderness Matters
“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, 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.” (The Wilderness Act).
There are 78,986 acres of congressionally designated “wilderness” on the National Forest Service lands in Grand County, and 92,888 acres of wilderness within Rocky Mountain National Park, offering hikers and backpackers the solitude they might not find on other public land.
In addition to the beauty of being surrounded by wilderness, there are long-term economic benefits.
Last August, The Wilderness Society reported the role wilderness plays in local economies: “Federally designated wilderness areas provide incredibly valuable services – like increasing local income and employment, boosting recreation and tourism and naturally filtering our air and drinking water. Economic studies show that wilderness can boost residential property values by almost 19 percent. Wilderness is also often a motivation for people to move to and stay in places, which leads to economic development.”
Aldo Leopold wrote, “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot”. I am the latter; I must be near wild places. I love knowing that elk winter range is just across the valley, and that I can hike the mountain behind my house and see each wilderness area: Never Summer, Indian Peaks, Byers, and Vasquez.
Mike Ricketts, Wilderness Manager for the Sulphur Ranger District says: “The need for wilderness is universal; it’s not specific to Grand County. Congressionally designated wilderness areas are there to be protected and preserved for future generations. Our job in the Forest Service is to monitor, manage, and regulate all aspects of the wilderness resource pursuant to the Wilderness Act. For example, we monitor changes over time in water clarity and vegetation and the effects of recreation use. We then determine if a management action is needed to further protect the Wilderness.”
He continues, “Wilderness areas also serve as a scientific baseline from which we can monitor natural processes. For example the effects of the bark beetle is a natural process that will run its course within wilderness boundaries while we take appropriate action outside wilderness boundaries where values are at risk. We can monitor and learn what the bark beetle does without interruption by man in a natural environment.”
Why does wilderness matter? It matters because being around wild places makes our lives better, it inspires artistic and intellectual creativity, and, it stimulates our local economy.
Benita Cervantes lives in Winter Park and is a member of the Grand County Wilderness Group (GCWG).
“My first exposure to the wilderness was the small woods behind our house,” she says. “It held the stillness and magic found in wilderness. I see our role as stewards rather than lords; respecter and preservers.”
Anyone who aspires to make the world a better place, or even just their small part of the world, can begin by protecting and preserving wilderness in Grand County. On Nov. 21. GCWG hosts an annual dinner at Snow Mountain Ranch. Michele Simmons, district interpreter for Rocky Mountain National Park is the speaker. New members are encouraged to attend.
The mission of the GCWG: To assist the USFS in the Preservation, Protection, Improvement and Public understanding of the wilderness areas in Grand County. Members host at trail head cabins, perform trail maintenance and other fun things. Visit www.gcwg.org.