Editor’s Note: Throughout the year, we will highlight Forest Service wilderness areas in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act of 1964.
It’s pretty amazing that you can be in the busy college town of Carbondale, Ill., one minute, then roughly an hour’s ride away be at the gateway to one of our wilderness areas.
This year is the golden anniversary of the Wilderness Act, signed on Sept. 3, 1964, by President Lyndon Johnson. The act established the country’s National Wilderness Preservation System. So, on Sept. 3, 2014, lovers of wildlands will celebrate the landmark event that made history.
Today, America boasts 758 wilderness areas covering almost 110 million acres. The Forest Service alone manages 440 wilderness areas. They make up a third of the entire National Forest System.
“This anniversary year provides a wonderful opportunity for us to re-affirm our commitment to wilderness stewardship and to engage the public, particularly youth, in opportunities for a better understanding and appreciation of wilderness benefits — clean air and water, natural settings, critical plant and wildlife habitat, solitude, recreation, spiritual renewal, and economic benefits,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.
So far, 50th Wilderness Anniversary plans include many diverse projects, including one developed for local Girl Scout troops that will help them earn a badge on the Shawnee National Forest. The nearby Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, also is planning an event. Forest Service employees will get a refresher on stewardship at the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center in Missoula, Mont.
On the Shawnee National Forest alone, there are seven wilderness areas, all of which were designated by the U.S. Congress with the Illinois Wilderness Act of 1990.
“We want Wilderness to be remembered, cherished and preserved so they leave a lasting legacy,” said Elwood York, Forest Service Wilderness Program manager. “With this celebration, we want to honor the past, discern the present and look to preserve what we have for the future generations to follow.”