Nifty, Nifty, Look Who’s Fifty


How I wish I had a photo of wilderness as a child so this piece’s title made more sense. But in thinking about wilderness, that’s one of the things that makes it so wonderful. Even at 50, it still looks as young and wild, unspoiled one might say, if not even more so, than it did in its adolescence.

It was fifty years ago today that President Johnson signed the Congress-approved Wilderness Act into law. With a pen swipe, 9.1 million acres of public lands across the United States were immediately put under the provision of the National Wilderness Preservation System and granted the highest conservation protection possible under American law. Since then an additional 100 million acres has been protected as wilderness. All but six U.S. states contain wilderness areas, and many more lands are currently slated to be added.

Photo from Goat Rocks Wilderness by Shane Kucera.

The Wilderness Act was written by Howard Zahniser, then Executive Director of the Wilderness Society. Dissatisfied with the disjointed approach to preservation in the United Sates, he sought to create something more cohesive. His first draft had to go through 66 revisions over eight years to finally become law. Zahniser, who died four months before the act’s signing, missed the chance to see his legacy enacted, a legacy that continues and that benefits all of us who explore our country’s wild areas. Some find inspiration and others balance. I go to escape the noise and digital-connectedness of life in a city, granting me a glimpse of how it all was before modern time.

In the 50 years of the act, new areas have been protected time and again. However, since 2009, with Congressional bipartisanship causing deadlock, proposed wilderness areas in over 10 states, almost all with strong local support, are awaiting approval. These areas provide critical habitat in addition to being places where we Americans can explore nature without the mechanization of man, as Howard Zahniser envisioned in 1956.

I hope you enjoy this milestone by visiting a wilderness area near you. The photographs and quotes below are from a few Outdoor Project contributors who wanted to share their favorite wilderness areas to celebrate the milestone. My personal favorite is Goat Rocks, but I still have so many on my list to explore that it doesn't feel right picking just one.

Photo courtesy of Jeff P from Flickr Creative Commons license.
Photo by Eric Adsit.
Photo by Sharlea Taft.
Photo by Tyson Gillard.
Photo by Marielle Cowdin.

Written by Jared Kennedy and published on Outdoor Project on September 3, 2014.