Explore: Enjoying wildlands as Wilderness Act turns 50

The great outdoors,

ST. GEORGE – It’s hard to imagine what life would be like without the freedom of public lands. One of the most essential steps in the preservation of public land was the signing of the Wilderness Act, which was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on Sept. 3, 1964, making 2014 its 50th anniversary.

With several different public lands, including state parks, national parks, Bureau of Land Management lands and wilderness, it can be a little confusing to understand exactly what wilderness area use encompasses.

Some understand areas of wilderness as “unaltered landscapes” others define it by saying wilderness is a relative condition.

Perhaps the most definite answer to this inconsistency is the catalog-version pulled from the Wilderness Act itself: “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

View into Zion National Park from Canaan Mountain Wilderness, Zion National Park, March 21, 2014 | Photo by Drew Allred, St. George News
View into Zion National Park from Canaan Mountain Wilderness, Zion National Park, March 21, 2014 | Photo by Joseph Harper, St. George News

This information is among other requirements, such as the land having scientific, educational, scenic or historical significance for a piece of land to be designated as wilderness. There are more than 750,000 acres of land designated as wilderness in Utah. One section of that is Pine Valley Mountain, which is of great geologic significance in that it is the largest laccolith, or intrusive body that has been pushed up, in the world.

One of the biggest problems with people in Wilderness areas is a general lack of education about its appropriate use, said Public Affairs Officer Rachel Tueller, with the BLM’s Arizona Strip District.

“Typically a wilderness area is a quiet use area, where you’re not going to have mechanical devices such as an ATV, jeep, a mountain bike that sort of thing,” Tueller said. “It’s typically going to be equestrian or hiking. That’s part of the wilderness experience … people don’t want the signs of development and many people feel that too many way-finding signs, that that is a lot of development.”

The Wilderness Act allowed over 109 million acres of land to be designated as public use wilderness area. Wilderness regions are unique to other public lands in that they fall under the “leave no trace” approach that allows for deep measures of preservation and development restrictions that would affect the natural domain of the environment and the aesthetics of the area. For example, paved trails and bathroom facilities are not allowed in wilderness areas. This envelops a true feeling of “being away from it all.”

Campsite in wilderness area, Windy Point, Arizona, March 14, 2014 | Photo by and courtesy of Spencer Mathisen, St. George News
Campsite in wilderness area, Windy Point, Arizona, March 14, 2014 | Photo by and courtesy of Spencer Mathisen, St. George News

When approaching wilderness areas, self-sufficiency is essential. People should have at least one gallon of water per person per day, Tueller said, because you lose so much fluid without realizing it and than you get turned around. Being prepared and leaving an itinerary with someone is also advised, she said, including “where you’re going, when you’re going, and when you will return.”

The number one thing about fires is that we are in wildfire season. A lot of people think that a fire ring made of rocks is considered to be a restricted fireplace, but that is actually not the case, Tueller said. There are many things people can be attentive to that will reduce the risk of wildland fire starts.

The idea behind “leave no trace” is consideration for the future. People are encouraged to consider the land for the people that come to that piece of land after you.

“My love for public lands got me into this job,” Tueller said, “exploring the countryside with my family.”

Sunset in the wilderness, Windy Point, Arizona, March 14, 2014 | Photo by and courtesy of Spencer Mathisen, St. George News
Sunset in the wilderness, Windy Point, Arizona, March 14, 2014 | Photo by and courtesy of Spencer Mathisen, St. George News

Upcoming lectures and events celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act

  • April 17 at 7:30 p.m. Garry Oye, Chief Wilderness Stewardship, National Park Service, Canyon Community Center, 126 Lion Blvd. Springdale. Lectures are hosted monthly and are free and open to the public. For information please call 435 772 3264.
  • April 25 at 3 p.m. Wilderness Festival, Confluence Park, LaVerkin, Utah.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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