High Country News
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High Country News

‘Somebody has to keep people on their toes’

High Country News’ unlikely and remarkable origin story.

Sarah Gilman/High Country News

The summer of 1969 was a momentous one: The Stonewall riots publicly asserted the rights of the LGBTQ community; Apollo 11 landed on the moon; a music festival in Woodstock, New York, became shorthand for the counterculture movement. But in Lander, Wyoming, a very different kind of drama played out in the classified section of Camping News Weekly. “GIRL CAMPER would like to enlist the aid of boy camper,” the first ad read. “Please bring double sleeping bag and rare Yetti (sic) stomach. Camp location: two miles above Townsend Creek.” Boy Camper — confused — replied in the next week’s issue: “Filled with what and where the heck is Townsend Creek.” Girl Camper responded the following week that she might blaze a trail for Boy Camper to find her tent, though either she didn’t or he couldn’t follow it. By the end of August, Girl Camper had grown impatient: “the world has been beating a path to my tent flap,” she wrote. “If you don’t find Townsend Creek this week, you’re out of luck.” After this, their budding romance disappeared from the paper’s pages.

This seemingly small, personal drama provides a window into the origins of the magazine you hold in your hands — and a place to begin telling the story of this rather unlikely and remarkable publication. Camping News Weekly, where our star-crossed campers traded flirtations, would become High Country News just five months later, signaling a shift from a focus on outdoor recreation to a decision to take on the mantle of environmental activism through the conviction of its founder, a Lander native named Tom Bell. From its inception, it was the kind of publication that published material both local and somehow universal, like the (perhaps) unrequited yearnings of two young people, and it slowly became a voice for the Western United States. It examined the effects of the mining industry in Wyoming, but also served as a platform for the burgeoning national environmental movement: on overpopulation, pollution, energy production, ecology and the preservation of wilderness areas. Over the five decades High Country News has been in print, it has maintained that wide-ranging curiosity about the region, seeking to create a community “for people who care about the West.”

Read more: https://www.hcn.org/issues/52.9/history-somebody-has-to-keep-people-on-their-toes

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The nation’s leading source of reporting on the Western U.S.

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High Country News

High Country News

Working to inform and inspire people — through in-depth journalism — to act on behalf of the West’s diverse natural and human communities.

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