Mountainfilm focuses on Wilderness Act

Telluride to contemplate value of wilderness as law turns 50 this year

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Amid passing landmark civil rights legislation and starting to fret about Vietnam, the U.S. Congress 50 years ago passed the Wilderness Act.

The law specifically designated 9.2 million acres of public lands as “untrammeled by man” and created a way for the further designation of lands. Moving Mountains, the symposium held in conjunction with the Mountainfilm in Telluride film festival, this year has a highly regarded lineup of speakers focusing on that topic. The festival is held Memorial Day weekend.

Douglas Brinkley, the well-known historian frequently seen on television, will be there to talk about his various books, including “The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America.” He has also written about the preservation of wilderness in Alaska.

Jared Diamond, whose “Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies,” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1997, will speak.

Jared Diamond

Jared Diamond

Cheryl Strayed will be there, too, to tell about her experiences. While in her early 20s, she set out on a 1,000-mile backpack trip along the Pacific Crest Trail, knowing almost nothing about backpacking but hoping the experience would give her some insights into her then-troubled life. It seems to have, because her book, “Wild,” has won rave reviews and broad attention.

David Holbrooke, the festival director, tells The Telluride Watch that he believes the “untrammeled by man” definition must be extended beyond the 109.5 million acres of federally owned lands now designated as wilderness, roughly 50 percent of it in Alaska. That definition must be expanded to the oceans, where so much of what’s most threatened “lies under the surface.”

Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed

The definition of wilderness has always been tricky. As many commentators have noted, there is plenty of evidence of people within formally designated wilderness. You can, for example, see a lot of old mines, occasionally cabins.

And as William Cronon, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, has noted, the whole idea of wilderness may be false. It supposes a landscape primeval untouched by human hands. In fact, Native Americans had no dualistic notions regarding landscapes.

But the fact that humans are now having an impact as never before on the natural world is clear enough to even the most myopic among us.

What does wilderness mean to you? That will be the question posed to Moving Mountains attendees. Holbrooke told the Watch that he himself has no pithy answer.

“We need a definition that has universal meaning, yet individual meaning,” he said.

Also commentating about wilderness at the festival will be Katie Lee, regarded as the grande dame of Western songs (and a notable river runner, too) and Dave Foreman, a cofounder of EarthFirst.


About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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