What is it that makes me so passionate about wilderness? I had my first understanding of wilderness when I was 12 years old and in Girl Scouts. I had been visiting wilderness for my entire life with my family, but didn’t necessarily understand that those some of those cool wild places we went where wilderness areas.
I grew up in southwest Missouri on the edge of the prairie and the other edge the Ozarks. The Mark Twain National Forest Wilderness and Buffalo River areas were our stomping ground when we wanted to go backpacking. My mom was my Girl Scout leader and she and another woman would take our troop backpacking twice a year. We would rotate trips between Piney Creek, Hercules, Buffalo River, Hercules and Big Piney Wilderness areas. While visiting the Buffalo River in northern Arkansas specifically, I remember the stories from my dad. He had told me about how he helped to inventory that land for possible wilderness designation when he was in his 20s. I have vivid memories of feeling that my dad was responsible for protecting that land we were exploring. It was these backpacking trips that kept my Girl Scout troop together. We mainly functioned as a group who met to plan camping and backpacking trips. When I was in high school I began to help lead the backpacking trips for the younger troops. I lived for those weekends when I got to get out and slog up and down the ragged Ozark hills, sleep under the stars, and cook food on our little butane stoves. I would come back to school and write about our hiking experience in English class. Those trips were very special to me.
A pivotal summer for me was going to Isle Royale National Park and the Rawah Wilderness in northern Colorado when I was 16. Both backpacking trips where with Girl Scouts. The Isle Royale wilderness trip taught me so much; more than I ever thought I could learn. Overcoming adversity, being creative, letting loose and feeling comfortable to just be me, overcoming challenges, and most of all sharing the experience with 8 other girls from around the country who were similar to me (a feeling I didn’t have at my school). Hiking in the Rawah wilderness was my first rocky mountain backpacking trip. To be cold in August at elevation, find snow to play in, and breath fresh mountain air was magical. Wilderness was fuelling my spirit and providing me awesome meaningful experiences.
Then in college I was very involved with our campus Outdoor Adventures program where we lead peer-instructed wilderness trips to the same wilderness areas I had been going with Girl Scouts for the previous 8 years. Learning NOLS style wilderness travel and strong Leave No Trace ethics from our facilitator, I became an even more knowledgeable steward and lover of wilderness. I also began to meet other lifelong friends who also valued wilderness as much as I did. Wilderness gave us opportunities to get away from campus, challenge ourselves physically, be in solitude, travel and live in community, and gave us space to talk and laugh about the things that matter most in life. The friends who I’ve shared wilderness experiences with are the ones I’m still in touch with today and will cherish forever.
Working as a National Park Service park ranger, I was given the opportunity to share my love of wilderness with multiple visitors. Teaching and interpreting wilderness to ultimately help visitors learn to be stewards was so rewarding. My passion for wilderness lead me to do evening slide presentations on the values of wilderness, write backcountry brochures, and work with the National Park Service Wilderness Education director in Shenandoah National Park. I just kept diving in more and more.
Participating in the Grand Canyon Semester at NAU, I did my semester project on Wilderness. I just couldn’t get away from it. Wilderness is ingrained in my blood. My project was a comparative study on the Grand Canyon wilderness proposal and Southeastern Utah’s wilderness proposal. My argument was that people compromise and deplete their culture unintentionally as they are unwilling to support wilderness designation and continue to develop wild lands.
Working for North Cascades Institute, I was blessed to live in the middle of North Cascades National Park and explore the wilderness there regularly. The wilderness was my backyard literally. The history of poets and explores who had spent time there years ago made my experiences that much more rich and meaningful.
Now living in the Roaring Fork Valley, I’m surrounded by wilderness areas. Upon moving here, within only 6 weeks I was volunteering to do ground truthing for the Roadless project. I lived where I could walk from my door to the Hunter Fryingpan Wilderness in about 30 minutes. Since moving here over 3 years ago, I have explored many trails within the wilderness here. Many times I go by myself. I am given the gift of solitude, self-reliance, and adventure. I am forced to be with myself and think and process the everyday hustle and bustle of my world.
I associate the best moments of my life with times spent with people I have experienced the backcountry wilderness areas with. Wilderness not only has given me moments of solitude, beauty, peace, and renewal, but also it has given me the most incredible people who I have come to love and cherish. I have been challenged mentally, physically, and have grown tremendously in wilderness. It is in wilderness that I am allowed to focus on what matters most in my life and am not distracted by the electronic, fully scheduled, traffic ridden world. Wilderness has and always will continue to give incredible relationships with people and space to grow mentally and spiritually.
And that is why I’m passionate about wilderness. Please help us protect more land as wilderness with the Hidden Gems Wilderness campaign. Visit their website http://www.whiteriverwild.org/ to write letters to congressman, sign a letter of support, and learn more about the campaign. Support is needed from people all around the country, not just Colorado. So please check the website and give us your support.