SierraScape September 2013 - February 2014
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By John Karel
Tower Grove Park
and Co-Founder of
Missouri Wilderness Coalition
Few words in our language are as evocative as
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
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
designation are in 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.