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The Value of Wilderness

“Our remnants of wilderness will yield bigger values to the nation’s character and health than they will its pocketbook, and to destroy them will be to admit that the latter are the only values that interest us.”

For more than two decades, I have been blessed with the opportunity to spend time every summer in the wilderness with a group of guys whose friendship becomes more meaningful with every step of the trail.

Our adventure usually begins in the middle of winter as I pour over maps or hiking guides in front of the woodstove.  Once I find something interesting, I plant the seed with an email: “Hey guys, just checking to see who’s up for a backpacking trip this year…” I begin, knowing a collective “count me in!” will soon arrive from Montana, Minnesota and North Carolina.  After noodling over multiple options, we eventually settle on someplace remote and wild, where we know we will experience the challenge, adventure and joy of being in wilderness.

Once the trip begins, our first footfalls on the trail are heavy with our home and work responsibilities as we re-learn how to let these go.  Our conversation fills in the gaps from the past year as the beauty of the surrounding landscape seeps into our consciousness with each passing mile.  Eventually the chatter dies down, replaced with songbirds, the whisper of wind in the trees, elk bugling or simply the sound of our boots on the trail as we absorb the world around us.

As we settle into the routine of each day — wake, break camp, hike all day, set up camp, sleep — the beauty of wilderness takes center stage. Drinking cool, clean unfiltered water from a running stream, glassing a grizzly sow and cub as they search for food and watching the sun slowly disappear behind a towering snow-capped mountain replace our thoughts of meetings, calendars and daily commutes.  Each moment in wilderness brings us closer to our natural existence.

Wilderness adventure deepens our friendships in a way no phone, text or social media post can accomplish.  The offer of a helping hand to cross a rushing river or scramble up a cliff, sharing food over a crackling campfire and heartfelt conversations deep in the woods are natural in this place without interruption.

Famed ecologist Aldo Leopold stated, “Our remnants of wilderness will yield bigger values to the nation’s character and health than they will its pocketbook, and to destroy them will be to admit that the latter are the only values that interest us.”

Each moment I spend in the wild reaffirms the value of designated wilderness, from experiencing its stunning natural beauty to the opportunity to deepen bonds with my fellow human beings. Perhaps my fondest memories stem from time spent in the Bob Marshall Wilderness of Montana, the place where our first backpacking adventure took place and a location we have returned to many times over the years.  I often say our friendship was born on the trails of “the Bob”, and with each passing mile it has deepened into something invaluable in my life.

Caring for this wild landscape is very important to me, and one of the reasons I find such joy in my work as president of The Wilderness Land Trust.  The Trust works tirelessly to ensure that our favorite wilderness areas remains free from the threats of commercial, industrial and residential development, fulfilling the promise of wilderness for future generations, a must for me and my band of brothers, a joyful journey much like our annual summer adventure.