A heartfelt ‘thank you’ for protecting Wilderness 50 years ago today

The Wilderness Act turns 50 years old today. It’s almost too much for this millennial to comprehend. I’m writing, to my parent’s and grandparent’s generations to say “thank you.”

You fought the battle to protect our public lands for future generations. Here we are. We appreciate it.

Jack Haskel in Emigrant Wilderness, just off the PCT, last week.

Jack Haskel on a solo hike in Emigrant Wilderness, just off the PCT, last week.

That wilderness is so young is hard for me to fathom. The landscapes and ecosystems are ancient. Yet without protection, we’d destroy them. Traveling through wild, beautiful, natural places is, next to family, the most important thing in my life. It’s amazing to me that not long ago, people fought for the permanent protection of the wilderness areas I enjoy. President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act on Sept. 3, 1964. Wilderness still is young and needs nurturing.

I’m writing from a meadow on the side of the West Fork of the Walker River, on the Pacific Crest Trail. This land, just north of Yosemite National Park, is protected as the Hoover Wilderness. I’m here because it’s protected. About half the PCT runs through wilderness.

My friends and I are spread throughout the country. We live in mountain towns and desert communities, near long-distance trails and in backcountry trail camps. Some bounce between seasonal jobs, vans and patches of dirt because of one thing: you fought for the Wilderness Act. You protected the places in which we soar.

We’d be different, diminished in a way, if you hadn’t fought the battle for wilderness.

Protecting wilderness is on us.

Protecting wilderness is on us.

This anniversary’s motto is: Yours to Enjoy; Yours to Protect.

Your generations created the framework: the Wilderness Act, which protects the land; and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which raises money to pay for new wilderness. You also created the institutions: schools to teach, research groups to inform, programs to introduce, gear to get us there, agencies to steward, nonprofits to protect.

My heartiest gratitude goes to those who have and continue to take action. To those who have heeded the call for protection: thank you. To those who vote for wilderness: thank you. Thank you to those who give their hard-earned dollars. Thank you all who work professionally to protect it, especially the men and women in federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, who labor entire careers stewarding this precious resource. Thank you to all that make donations because you believe wild places are important.

We’ve received a world with problems: debt, strife, a changing climate. Still, we’ve been left with a few jewels. These wilderness areas mean so much. Thank you.

Happy birthday.

Author: Jack "Found" Haskel

As the Trail Information Manager, Jack works to connect people to the PCT. He's involved with a wide variety of projects that help the trail, the trail's users and the community that surrounds the experience. He has thru-hiked (Pacific Crest Trail in 2006; Colorado Trail in 2008; Continental Divide Trail in 2010) and is an obsessed weekend warrior.