Head east off the interstate in northern California, and you’ll find yourself immersed in the Castle Crags Wilderness area. A pristine land filled with mature forests, 6,000 foot granite spires and miles long ridgelines, Castle Crags is home to eagles, spawning fish, bear, the northern spotted owl, the rare spotted bat and more.
Recently, The Wilderness Land Trust purchased and preserved more than 1200 acres of pristine mountainous land to protect this amazing habitat. But for board member Jacqueline Van Dine, experiencing Castle Crags meant more than protecting this land from development and expanding a significant habitat. For her, it was a spiritual journey.
“When we visited the property during one of our board meetings, we hiked up the mountain and had the most stunning views of snow-peaked Mt. Shasta,” says Jacqueline. “The view took my breath away and all I could do was stare at it in silence. You see, I lost my brother on Mt. Shasta in 1999 during his first summit. So, to come back to this area and into the depths of nature brought a beautiful sense of peace to my heart and one that I’d love to preserve forever.”
Growing up, Jacqueline spent summers with her family camping, fishing, rafting and hiking in state parks or near her home in California, but it was The Wilderness Land Trust that first introduced her to “true wilderness.”
“When I first became aware of the Trust, I was working as the co-founder of an outdoor lifestyle brand and we had a strong give-back ethos. Personally, I also wanted to find an opportunity that preserved and protected the outdoors. Honestly, I wasn’t very familiar with ‘wilderness’ from a technical standpoint, but the idea of securing our natural spaces for generations to come is something I want to be a part of,” says Jacqueline.
When Jacqueline first met members of The Wilderness Land Trust, she says she was thrilled at how experienced and effective they were at securing thousands of wilderness acres, despite the small size of the organization. “I then met the rest of the board of directors and my mind was blown at the caliber and passion of what was powering this little organization to secure so much wilderness for more than 25 years,” she says. “And I wanted in.”
Jacqueline joined the Trust’s board of directors in 2011 and says every trip she takes to a wilderness area still feels like her first. “With every trip I stand in awe as I look around the vast valleys filled with trees, shrubs, wild mushrooms, wild flowers, lizards, snakes, paw prints, and serenity. What more can I say? I’m hooked.”
Being a California native, Jacqueline’s favorite wilderness area so far is the Ventana Wilderness along Big Sur. “We had one of our most epic Wilderness Land Trust trips through the Ventana Wilderness, complete with a fly-over by a family of native California Condors. Truly epic on so many levels,” adds Jacqueline.
If you ask Jacqueline what her hopes and dreams are for wilderness in the U.S., she’ll tell you she feels strongly that we need to balance our urban growth with more protection of our natural habitats and open spaces. “We can’t re-grow our natural places. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good,” she says. And her dreams for The Wilderness Land Trust? “The Trust’s mission is a simple yet meaningful one, to purchase private land within wilderness areas and transfer it to the public for permanent protection. I’d love to see the organization truly put itself out of business because they have secured all of those private areas back into the public’s hands. With enough resources, it really can happen.”