Wednesday, September 3, 2014

50th Anniversary of Wilderness Act

“I believe we have a profound fundamental need for areas of the earth where we stand without our mechanisms that make us immediate masters over our environment.”
- Howard Zahniser, principal author of the Wilderness Act. 

On September 3, 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Wilderness Act, created a way for Congress and Americans to designate "wilderness areas," to establish the nation's highest form of land protection.  This historic bill established the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS), setting aside an initial 9.1 million acres of wildlands for the use and benefit of the American people. Over the past 50 years, Congress has added over 100 million acres to this land preservation system. The 1964 Wilderness Act defines "Wilderness" as areas where the earth and its communities of life are left unchanged by people, where the primary forces of nature are in control, and where people themselves are visitors who do not remain. No roads, vehicles or permanent structures are allowed in designated wilderness. A wilderness designation also prohibits activities like logging or mining. The NWPS was established for the use and enjoyment of the American people and provides many direct and in-direct benefits, such as those relating to ecological, geological, scientific, educational, scenic, spiritual, economic, recreational, historical, and cultural uses and activities. The 757 wilderness areas within the NWPS are managed by all four federal land managing agencies, the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, and National Park Service.

Wisconsin features the recently combined national forest of Chequamegon-Nicolet, boasting over 430 lakes and 44,000 acres of Wilderness Areas. In addition, Wisconsin has nearly 50 award-winning state parks, 10 state forests, and 24 state trails, each providing four-season enjoyment. Wisconsin has nearly 15,000 interior lakes and borders along two Great Lakes and the Mississippi River.

My husbands family gathered for a week during the summer of 2009 to hike, fish, canoe, and relax in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Constructed in 1938 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the facilities  at Lost Lake were originally built to serve as an organizational camp.  It was one of the first camps built by the CCC program during the great depression. Rustic cabins were available to rent in a remote forested setting near the Lost Lake Campground. There were a central recreation hall where we could gather and two central buildings providing bathrooms and showers.

Sunrise over Lost Lake

"Wilderness is a necessity...
There must be places for human beings to satisfy their souls." 
~John Muir (Sierra Club co-founder)

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