- August 04, 2014
- Posted by Jono McKinney And Scott Brennan
In 1964 Americans made a big commitment to the preservation of their public lands by enacting the Wilderness Act. This landmark legislation gave Americans a tool to protect the country’s last best wild places, free from development and open for all people to enjoy. As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act this fall, we are recommitting ourselves to fulfilling our responsibility to care for America’s magnificent public lands.
The story of public lands, and specifically the story of the Wilderness Act, is not just a story of spectacular places but also a story of people and follow-through on a promise. From visionaries like Aldo Leopold, Bob Marshall, and Teddy Roosevelt came protection for places like Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness, the Linville Gorge Wilderness in North Carolina, and Wyoming’s Shoshone National Forest. With the passage of the Wilderness Act came the promise to our children they will always have a places like these to discover solace, freedom, and reconnect to our natural heritage.
As the Wilderness Act turns 50, The Wilderness Society and the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, a new national initiative to engage youth with the outdoors through service on public lands, are advancing a program called “50 for the 50th.” Together, we are organizing 50 service projects in 50 backcountry areas across the country to inspire the next generation of Americans to care for their wild places.
Americans have forged deep connections to the outdoors due to the work of conservation corps dating back to the depression-era. We believe future stewards will continue to emerge from the ranks of today’s conservation corps, which is why the Montana Conservation Corps (MCC) is managing 10 projects in national forests in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho as part of the “50 for the 50th.” In Montana, that work includes six trail projects to improve public access on Montana’s Gallatin, Helena, Flathead, Beaverhead-Deerlodge, and Bitterroot National Forests, and also in Bear Trap Canyon, an area managed by the BLM.
For many of us, a connection with wild places begins close-to-home. Near Bozeman, crews of local teens serving with MCC’s Youth Service Expedition program have been hard at work for weeks rebuilding the Wheeler Gulch trail with the help of other local volunteers. By rebuilding this nearly forgotten trail, hikers, mountain-bikers and horse riders will all have greater access to a great network of trails south of town.
In other parts of the state, MCC AmeriCorps members and youth corps members are busy swinging pulaskis to maintain the Meriwether Trail connecting to the Missouri River in the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness, the Whitefish Range Trails above the Flathead Valley, the Continental Divide Trail in the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, and the Westside Canyon Trails accessing the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness south of Missoula.
Each of these projects disconnects youth from their computer screens and engages them as part of the solution to caring for and ensuring access to treasured wild places. With the celebration of 50 years of designated wilderness and the launch of this new 21st Century Conservation Corps initiative comes a reminder that public lands are here for all of us, and are ours to care for across the generations.
America is fortunate to have an enduring legacy of wild places to enjoy. When you’re out this summer enjoying these wild places with your friends and family, we hope you take some time to thank the hard working volunteers who are working to ensure we can continue to access and enjoy them into the future.
Jono McKinney, of Bozeman, is president and CEO of the Montana Conservation Corps, a member of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps. Scott Brennan, of Bozeman, is Montana state director of The Wilderness Society.
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