Cheaha Wilderness encompasses 7,245-acres near the Talladega Mountains in Alabama. I have spent the morning meandering my way along many of the trails that crisscross this land. Sitting atop an outcropping of rocks, I throw an arm around my faithful pup as the wind rustles his fur and kisses my cheek. These wild public places are worth preserving. They are worth saving.
I sometimes find myself taking for granted that these places full of tall trees, flowing rivers, and wild animals will always be here for me to access. Cheaha Wilderness is a small part of the National Wilderness Preservation System that is made up of 110 million acres of land across the United States. Although Wilderness offers wonderful places to camp, hike, canoe, hunt, and fish, it provides many benefits beyond those of recreation.
These large expanses of land are protected under the Wilderness Act of 1964. The wilderness designation under the act protects wildlands from overdevelopment. By doing so, it limits pollution and habitat destruction. Precious ecosystems are protected against off-road-vehicle use, oil and gas drilling, logging, mining, and road building. By protecting these lands, we protect watersheds that help provide clean drinking water. These natural areas help filter and clean the air, providing us with healthier living conditions.
Nature offers a place to escape the madness of civilization. John Muir said it well, “And, into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” We reap many benefits from the natural world, but the wilderness needs our help as well. If you do a little research, you might be surprised to realize how many threats these precious wild places face. As outdoor recreationists, we are indebted to the many people and organizations who have fought to secure these places for our enjoyment.
We owe it to the next generation to help keep these places protected and open to all Americans. Ken Ilgunas appreciated what we risk losing in his book Walden on Wheels, “We can only miss what we once possessed. We can only be wronged when we realize something has been stolen from us. […] Soon, the glaciers will go with the clear skies and clean waters and all the feelings they once stirred. It’s the greatest heist of mankind, our inheritance being stolen like this. But how can we care or fight back when we don’t even know what has been stolen or is being taken from us?”
But, we do know what we have to lose. There are ways we can give back to these wild places that give us a refuge from societal life. Get involved with local and national conservation groups. Find an outdoor organization that shares your values and consider supporting them with your time or money. Here at Keep it Wild, we pride ourselves in taking responsibility for the wild places we love to explore. Local cleanup efforts raise awareness while removing trash from the wilderness areas we have the opportunity to frequent.
When I find myself stopping in my tracks at the beauty of the wild before me, I try to tuck that feeling away in my heart. Emerging from the woods, I make a promise to myself that I will do a better job of volunteering my time or, if possible, money to protecting this beautiful inheritance so that it can be passed along, fully intact, to the next generation of explorers.
This blog was thoughtfully written by Amy Gravlee. You can find her on Instagram at @amygrvl.