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Eastern Missouri Group

SierraScape September 2013 - February 2014
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Wilderness

By John Karel
Director of Tower Grove Park and Co-Founder of Missouri Wilderness Coalition

Few words in our language are as evocative as Wilderness, which conjures up images rooted deep in the consciousness. In ancient spiritual literature, wilderness is a place of loneliness and temptation, but also a refuge of prayer and communion.

In the New World the untamed landscape evoked both experiences. American pioneers struggled against the wilderness to settle and civilize it; yet it was out of this same wilderness that we were able to bring forth a fresh and new nation. Our national spirit has always found solace and renewal in the untrammeled American landscape.

In 1964, America decided that we should always retain at least some remnant of the original wilderness from which we had built our country. This wild remnant was to be reserved as a reminder of our identity, and as a source of physical refreshment and inspiration. Part of its value is as an antidote to our tendency toward arrogance about the natural world. It is only prudent to set some land aside where we intrude as little as possible, where we go not to dominate, manipulate or improve, but to learn, enjoy, and reflect.

This noble concept was at first applied almost exclusively in the great scenic areas of the mountain west. But it was soon apparent that a proper wilderness system should include landscapes from all regions of the country.

Missouri is a state with a rich heritage of wild beauty. Most of our lands that qualified for Wilderness Act designation are in the Ozark region on the Mark Twain National Forest. Most of that large forest is utilized for various management activities, but in several choice and selected tracts, mature forests stretch to the horizon, massive stone bluffs rise up toward the sky, clear waters flow swiftly over clean gravel beds or mossy bedrock, and wild animals large and small live out their lives in ancient rhythms little disturbed by man. You can visit these places, and it can enrich your life.

One of the best things about the campaigns to protect these remnant wilderness areas was that a generation of Missouri conservationists became much more keenly aware of their home state. From the late 1960s through the mid 1980s, many Missourians became intensely familiar with the public forests of our state, and developed a deep knowledge that did enrich their lives. And the result of their efforts was congressional action that designated a superb selection of Wilderness Areas in Missouri, areas now protected for future generations to discover, explore, and enjoy for themselves.