This month is the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, which set a standard across the world for protecting our wild spaces.
Some of my childhood heroes were instrumental in establishing the Wilderness Act. I am thinking of the great environmentalist Aldo Leopold and of Howard Zahniser, who drafted the legislation in 1956 that was signed into law by Lyndon Johnson eight years later.
My first internship in college in Washington, DC was even with the Wilderness Society!
Late this summer, my family celebrated the Wilderness Act with a trip to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, about two hours from our home in Seattle.
It has been the greatest joy and honor of my life to be the father to our four-year-old, Amelie. Nothing amazes and pleases me more than watching her explore the outdoors.
I will never forget her first hike on Ebey’s Landing on Whidbey Island to her first steps on the flat Franklin Falls hike near Snoqualmie Pass.
Amelie loves to explore IslandWood, where I work. But like any four-year-old, she gets tired and likes to ride in my backpack on many of our outdoor adventures. For our wilderness trip, we discussed how this would be a great opportunity for her to climb it unassisted. Perhaps eager to prove herself after my wife and I climbed a volcano (Mt. Baker in the North Cascades), Amelie vowed that she would make it on her own. We decided to tackle Dorothy Lake, which is about a 1,200 ft climb.
When we got to the trailhead, Amelie put on her small backpack and trotted out onto the trail with her loyal scout, our dog Mocha. She soon came to a wilderness sign and asked, “If this is wilderness, why is there a sign?” When I explained that it was to let people know they are in wilderness, she replied, “Well, as long as it does not hurt the tree, we are OK, we need the trees to breathe.”
Next we came across a waterfall. She smiled and asked, “Is there water in wilderness?” We answered yes and she put her feet in the water and splashed Mocha. As Amelie kept going up the trail steps, she kept stopping to play with the ferns, and we explained how they could help with insect bites.
The simple pleasure of slowing down and taking in every view, critter and plant, was inspiring.
Amelee was not to be deterred and as she made it to the last turn and could see the lake, she started to run and shout with joy. She noticed that there were two other families there. Amelie looked at me and asked, “Daddy, do people all come and play together in wilderness?”
I felt a bit emotional, as I thought of all of the folks who worked so hard to make wilderness an American reality.
Wilderness can bring us together. We have a challenge to engage more culturally diverse people with the wilderness, but we have created a legacy to protect and explore. Amelie’s wilderness adventure gives me hope that we will be celebrating a 100-year anniversary before we know it.
The wilderness can connect people to the land, to each other and in the case of our family, a curious four-year-old to nature.
Additional Reading and Resources
Photo by Martin LeBlanc