Why wilderness? Let me count the ways

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When I was 10 years old, my dad and I took a 10-day adventure along the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, a canoe route established in northern Maine by that state’s Legislature in 1966 to preserve and protect the wilderness character of this unique area. This magnificent 92-mile-long ribbon of lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams starts northwest of Baxter State Park and flows toward Canada. Protection for the Allagash was enhanced in 1970 when it was named the first state-administered component of the National Wild and Scenic River System.

This was my first taste of wilderness and it changed my life! I returned filled with desire for more adventure, to find places where I could be part of the natural landscape, to learn from wildlife what it meant to simply “be.” To “be” alive, in a place beyond the confines of the cages of zoos and suburbia.

That need for adventure, solitude, to be a seeker of wild places never left me. Though I did set it aside for a few years for an education and career. In those years, I made occasional forays into the backcountry and beyond. Paddling through Canyonlands, hiking in the Colorado Rockies, the North Cascades, the Olympics and Glacier National Park. There is yet remote and wild country that can be found on weeklong adventures!

My yearning for more wildness set me on a path, in 1994, to walk from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail. After 2,700 miles of walking, through 48 wilderness areas and many landscapes of varying other uses, I was hooked. A dedicated long distance hiker. Next up was the Appalachian Trail, then the Continental Divide Trail and a kayak trip the length of the Yukon River from British Columbia across the Yukon and Alaska to the Berring Sea. Big adventures need big country.

Wilderness transformed me once again. Coming back from my second through hike of the Pacific Crest trail I was struck by the fact that in all my wilderness wanderings, I had found no country in the “lower 48” more wild than the Scotchman Peaks. I felt that I could help do something about that. We can all do something to make sure opportunities to be wild are there for us without having to travel to the corners (or ends) of the country.

While it may not be big enough for a five-month hike, the Scotchmans are wild enough for a weekend or even weeklong trip into areas beyond the hustle and bustle of our otherwise busy lives. There is room enough to find your own special place in the Scotchmans and in doing so to find the remote sections of your very soul. This is where we each can find soul-itude.

This is why, as we celebrate Earth Day, I ask you to join me in urging Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, to re-introduce the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness Act and preserving the 13,960 acres of a place we call our wild home.

Phil Hough is the executive director of the Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness.

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