Yes! There is warmth in the air, and the grass is greening. Persephone, the goddess of spring, is pirouetting into the Yampa Valley and Old Man Winter, with his white ermine cloak, is slogging his way down the mountain.
Many of us start dreaming, dusting off our boots and putting our 10 essentials, or in my case 30, in our backpacks to be ready for wilderness adventures.
But what is wilderness? To some it might be where they are right now. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “an uncultivated, uninhabited and inhospitable region.” The Wilderness Society defines it as “an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions,” Howard Zahniser of the Wilderness Society wrote the Wilderness Act.
After eight years of work and over 60 drafts, the act passed in 1964 and was signed by President Lyndon Johnson. It originally protected and preserved over 9.1 million acres in these United States. That is land for nature and wildlife where man is a visitor on foot or on horse without mechanical intrusions.
In fact, the act defines wilderness as "an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence without permanent improvements or human habitation...” You do not have to pay a fee or purchase a pass. You can hike, camp,
climb, boat, hunt and fish, and you can bring horses and llamas but no mechanized method of travel. The purpose is to limit intrusion, as to keep these lands roadless and remote.
Since the signing of the Wilderness Act the total lands now protected are 109.5 million acres. This sounds like a whole lot of land, but. it turns out that 109 million acres is less than 5 percent of the total U.S. land base, and when you factor out Alaskan wilderness, it's just 2 percent of the lower 48 states. This is one of many interesting facts listed on Wilderness.org.
In Routt County, there are three nearby Wilderness Areas, Mount Zirkel, the Flat Tops and Sarvis Creek. According to a fact sheet published by the University of Montana, the Zirkel Wilderness was one of the first areas protected. This area is home to varied plant and animal life. It is over 160.000 acres and has 70 lakes and 15 peaks over 12,000 feet. There are over 150 miles of trail.
The Flat Tops Wilderness is south of Steamboat Springs near Yampa and is 230,830 acres. There are huge volcanic cliffs, 110 lakes 100 miles of fishable streams, in addition to 160 miles of trails for hiking. This is critical habitat for deer, elk and moose.
Our Wilderness Areas in Colorado are managed by the U.S. Forest Service and provide natural experiences for recreation including quiet, solitude and dark sky at night.
But what if we can’t or won’t go there? National Wilderness areas as designated by the Wilderness Act provide for a baseline where changes can be studied so we know how things once were. These lands help to clean our air and water. Cities and rural area in Colorado get their water from the watersheds in these protected areas.
So when spring dances its way into Routt County, please join in the dance, even if you don’t wear hiking boots. Help to preserve, protect and defend our protected Wilderness areas, for the wildlife, the plant life and for your legacy.
Nancy S. Working