The Wilderness Act turns 50 this week, marking the anniversary of the preservation of some of our most treasured national lands. Passed in 1964, the Wilderness Act established the National Wilderness Preservation System and created the first official wilderness areas.
When it was signed into law by President Johnson, the act designated 54 places spanning some 9.1 million acres as wilderness areas. Today there are more than 750 areas covering nearly 110 million acres.
Outings and events are being planned all across the country this week and beyond, and the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History is showcasing a special photography exhibit, "Wilderness Forever: 50 Years of Protecting America's Wild Places."
To celebrate our nation's wilderness areas, here are 10 reasons why we need wilderness areas.
1. “We need the tonic of wildness... At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” - Henry David Thoreau, author and naturalist.
Wine Lake, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota. (Photo: Brian Pittman/Flickr)
2. "Wilderness is a resource which can shrink but not grow... the creation of new wilderness in the full sense of the word is impossible." - Aldo Leopold, author, ecologist and co-founder of The Wilderness Society
Alpine Lake trail in Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho. (Photo: Miguel Vieira/Flickr)
3. "If you know wilderness in the way that you know love, you would be unwilling to let it go. ... This is the story of our past and it will be the story of our future." - Terry Tempest Williams, author and activist
Horses in the Steens Mountain Wilderness, Oregon. (Photo: BLMOregon/Flickr)
4. “We have a profound fundamental need for areas of wilderness... within which we stand without our mechanisms that make us immediate masters over our environment.” - Howard Zahniser, activist and principal author of the Wilderness Act
Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, Colorado (Photo: John Fowler/Flickr)
5. "Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit." - Edward Abbey, author and activist
LaBarge Creek from Boulder Canyon Trail, Superstition Wilderness, California. (Photo: Al_HikesAZ/Flickr)
6. "There is just one hope of repulsing the tyrannical ambition of civilization to conquer every niche on the whole earth. That hope is the organization of spirited people who will fight for the freedom of the wilderness." - Bob Marshall, forester and co-founder of The Wilderness Society
Webb Lake Ranger Station, Scapegoat Wilderness, Montana. (Photo: fsnorthernregion/Flickr)
Desolation Wilderness, California. (Photo: Abby Swann/Flickr)
8. “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.” - John Muir, author and founder of the Sierra Club
Pioneer Basin, John Muir Wilderness, California. (Photo: Tom Hilton/Flickr)
9. “Wilderness is not only a condition of nature, but a state of mind and mood and heart.” - Ansel Adams, nature photographer and environmental advocate
Iceburg Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness, California. (Photo: Ken-ichi Ueda/Flickr)
10. "Wilderness to the people of America is a spiritual necessity, an antidote to the high pressure of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium." - Sigurd Olson, author and environmentalist
Wrangell-Saint Elias Wilderness, Alaska. (Photo: Margaret Olson/Flickr)