Keeping Wilderness Memories Alive

“I am forever grateful to groups like The Wilderness Land Trust who have saved these wilderness areas for us, the public, to use.” 

-Bobby McLaughlin

Bobby McLaughlin and Anita on a recent outing in Washington state

It started three years ago with a simple smile and hello. Bobby McLaughlin had just finished a hike in the forest near the Washington state town of North Bend, when he noticed an elderly woman walking through the trailhead parking lot with her dog. She smiled at him. He smiled back. She introduced herself as Anita, and within moments they were chatting about his hike.

Bobby asked her if she wanted to see his pictures from the day’s hike. “She just lit up like it was Christmas,” says Bobby. “As I showed her my photos, she began sharing some of her hiking experiences from 30 to 40 years ago. We had an instant hiking bond.”

Bobby learned later that his new friend used to hike with her late husband, but he had since passed and she was no longer able to hike to the places she enjoyed so much. “On that day, Anita lived vicariously through my photos. We enjoyed chatting about my hike, and then like most encounters, we parted ways,” says Bobby. “But on my drive home I reflected on our chance meeting. It had taken me years to arrive at the happiest and healthiest place in my life where I could enjoy my hikes, and I knew I had to find her again so she could enjoy them too.”

A week later Bobby found her and a beautiful friendship emerged. “I started stopping by her home after my hikes to share pictures and describe my outings. I listened to her going back in time and reliving her past adventures. It’s been awesome to hike some of her favorite places, take pictures, and bring them back to her. She just lights up when I do this because it allows her to revisit some of her favorite wilderness memories. We’ve talked about everything over the past three years and have enjoyed many short hikes together.”

Anita first started hiking with her late husband Karl more than 50 years ago after attending a mountaineers meeting. “I thought they were so upbeat and happy and I wanted to be with those kind of people,” says Anita. “It became our life. Any free time we had we went hiking.”

Now that her husband has passed, Anita is grateful to relive her time in wilderness through Bobby.

“The pictures and stories Bobby shares with me bring back great memories. My thoughts and memories are being kept alive and this is really important to me,” adds Anita.

Bobby’s journey into wilderness started three years before meeting Anita. He grew up near Seattle, Washington, and while he was active in high school and college sports, he never ventured onto the trail. But all that changed in 2013.

“I was going through a period in my life where I didn’t like the direction I was headed. I felt totally lost. It’s sad to look back at who I was, but simultaneously profound to look back on the journey I’ve taken,” says Bobby quietly. “In 2013 I decided I really needed to look inward and try and figure out what to do with my life. So I woke up one morning and went on a hike. My first real hike on my own.”

A few miles later, Bobby said he noticed that his life started to slow down, and his stress began to dissipate. “I was able to peel back the layers of my life and look at the choices I’d made. So after that first hike I thought, well that was really cool, I should do it again.”

And he did. That first year Bobby says he went on five hikes. Since then, he’s averaged more than 1,000 miles and more than 300,000 feet in elevation gain each year. “Over time wilderness has become my home, a place where everything else doesn’t matter. It’s about being in the moment and finding solitude.”

Bobby’s “home” over the years has included 10 designated wilderness areas in Washington state, including Mt. Baker, Pasayten, Stephen Mather, Glacier Peak, Alpine Lakes, Lake Chelan – Sawtooth, Boulder River, Norse Peak, Mt. Adams and Clearwater.

Bobby says protecting these wilderness areas and others are pivotal for our country. “The wilderness changed the trajectory of my life. It provided me the space, peace and serenity to look within myself. I’m forever grateful to groups like The Wilderness Land Trust who have saved these wilderness areas for us, the public, to use. When The Wilderness Land Trust saves space, protects the environment, and allows us to use these lands, we should truly count ourselves among the most fortunate of people.”

How does Bobby’s friendship with Anita fit into his journey? “I could tell you stories for hours about what I’ve received from my friendship with this kind soul. My time in the wilderness has brought me one crystal clear vision in that we have the opportunity to be part of many things that are much bigger than us. To give of ourselves to others, to help those in need, to offer what we can. That is one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned, and I’m most grateful.”

WLT in Washington State
The Wilderness Land Trust made its first Washington state land acquisition within the North Cascades in 1998 when we purchased 62 acres in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Since then, we have acquired 17 properties totaling 946 acres in Washington state and we currently have seven active projects underway.

The Trust’s work in Washington state continues to be a priority, with nearly 3,000 acres of private land remaining within the Wild Sky, Henry M. Jackson, Buckhorn, Glacier Peak and Mount Baker Wilderness areas. These private parcels bring the potential for road and property development, mining and logging.

By systematically acquiring these private lands, we are stitching together the landscape, one project at a time, eventually making these wilderness areas whole. Please check out our
project map to find out more about our work in the Northwest and other parts of the country.

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