This year, 2014, marks the 50th Anniversary of The Wilderness Act, a landmark legislation that set aside an initial 9.1 million acres of land for preservation and established our current definition of wilderness. In honor of this, my dad and I will be embarking on our 3rd and final trip to the Arctic. Once again, we will be heading into Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. My dad and I, along with two friends, will be hiking over the Brooks Range to the mouth of the Hulahula River and then paddling our canoes north to the Arctic Ocean.
Before heading out, I’d like to leave you with a little history on the Wilderness Act and its connection to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
What was to become the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was the inspiration for the Wilderness Act. The northeastern region of Alaska was regarded as one of North America’s last great wildernesses. But it was unprotected. Olaus Murie, a native Alaskan and director of the Wilderness Society, recognized the necessity of preserving this land. Accompanied by his wife, Mardy, he led a summer-long biological expedition into the heart of the region, in the hopes of obtaining scientific evidence to support his campaign to protect it.
He was awestruck by the areas wildness. In the foothills of the Brooks Range he discovered thousands of free-roaming caribou, wolves, grizzly bear, and Dall sheep.
Emboldened by their experience, the Muries roamed Washington D.C., lobbying Congressmen, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Thanks to the Murie’s efforts, the Arctic Refuge was established in 1960. Four years later, the Muries celebrated another victory, the creation of the 1964 Wilderness Act. While campaigning for the creation of the Arctic Refuge, Olaus Murie was working with his Wilderness Society partner, Howard Zahniser, to craft a bill that would protect wild lands across the country. Murie understood that few people would have the privilege of traveling to Alaska. What they needed was the opportunity to interact with nature in their own backyards and experience it’s physical, psychological, and spiritual benefits.
Today, Murie’s dream is a reality. The Wilderness Act has set aside over 109 million acres of recreational land in over 25 states.
Growing up, I dreamed of going to Alaska, but the places that I loved, where I hiked, camped, canoed, hunted, and fished were close to home. Tomorrow, I will be traveling to the largest wilderness refuge in North America, but it was those formative childhood trips with my family that instilled in me a love of the outdoors.