Since Sept. 3, 1964, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law, Washington’s collection of protected lands has grown.
Only three wilderness areas – Glacier Peak, Goat Rocks and Mount Adams – were immediately placed in the National Wilderness Preservation System. Wilderness status meant these lands, as the act written by Wilderness Society leader Howard Zahniser says, would remain places “untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
Over the next 50 years more of the state earned this protected status. The many peaks and lakes of the Pasayten Wilderness were next in 1966. Eventually, Mount Rainier, the San Juan Islands, Mount Baker and other natural icons were added to the list.
Today, the Wilderness Act protects more than 100 million acres, including the 4.5 million that comprise Washington’s 31 wilderness areas.
But for all the mountains, forests, rivers and wildlife that have been protected these past 50 years, Sen. Patty Murray says there’s still work to be done.
Murray helped the Wild Sky Wilderness in the Central Cascades earn wilderness status in 2008, and she’s pushing for expansion of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness north of Snoqualmie Pass. She’s also proposing the expansion and designation of new wilderness in Olympic National Forest.
“From clean water that supports salmon runs to old growth trees that were here before the United States even became a country, I believe it’s our duty to fight to protect these extraordinary national treasures that support recreation, habitat, and our economy,” Murray said.
The U.S. Secretary of the Interior, former REI president and CEO Sally Jewell, says its important to continue protecting wild places.
“My hope is that we will use both our hearts and minds to thoughtfully protect landscapes that should remain forever wild – to provide important, connected habitat so diverse wildlife can thrive, and people can discover the gifts of nature undisturbed,” Jewell said. “If done well, future generations will be thankful to those who passed the Wilderness Act a half century ago, and those of us who were entrusted to carry it forward, because they will understand the value of a planet in balance.”
With the golden anniversary just days away, we asked a few lawmakers, activists and adventurers to share a favorite memory from Washington’s wildernesses. Here’s what a few of them had to say:
Inslee says the Pasayten Wilderness is one of his favorites. His son recently proposed to his longtime girlfriend at the top of 8,269-foot Amphitheater Mountain.
“To enjoy such a personal moment 20 miles from the sound of any machines, and in perfect peace and serenity, is a special gift these outdoor places provide to all of us.”
“If I had to pick just one destination, I’d choose the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The Alpine Lakes, located a mere 45 minutes from Seattle, is one of the most visited national forest wilderness areas in the country. It’s incredibly diverse, boasting lush old-growth forests, high lakes, snowcapped peaks, as well as dry forestland of Ponderosa and lodgepole pine. Early season hikes on the Ingalls Creek Trail to experience the waterfalls from the spring runoff has become a yearly tradition for my wife and I. Senator Patty Murray, representatives Dave Reichert and Suzan DelBene are leading an effort to expand the Alpine Lakes and designate the Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt rivers as ‘Wild and Scenic,’ furthering the opportunities for recreation within this spectacular region.”
“It's almost impossible to pick a favorite trip into Washington wilderness, but one of my most memorable experiences came just one year ago this month. I joined a group of long-time conservation advocates who worked with me on Wild Sky, and hiked into Washington's newest wilderness area using the Iron Goat Trail. When I finally saw the wooden Forest Service wilderness sign, it finally hit me that Wild Sky would be protected forever for my grandkids and their grandkids to enjoy.”
“The Goat Rocks Wilderness is my current favorite in Washington. I recently backpacked the (Pacific Crest Trail) from Walupt Lake to White Pass with my wife Erin and teenage daughter Audrey. It is a challenging hike with multiple days above timberline, nice camping, fantastic views, attractive meadows, and the opportunity to climb 7,900-foot Old Snowy along the way.”
“Since I grew up near Mount Adams, I suppose my favorite ‘trip’ has to be a circumnavigation of this huge and rugged mountain, on and off trails through the Mount Adams Wilderness and its de facto wilderness in the Yakama Reservation – taking at least a week or more to do the backpack.
“I’ve always enjoyed the mountain’s significant challenges (like the big glacial streams with no bridges); spectacular terrain (especially all the glaciers and icefalls); amazing volcanic landforms; the old-growth mountain hemlock and great diversity of wildflowers; the wildlife (especially the large herds of mountain goats); and, of course, the companionship of good friends. Also, I loved the delightful campsites and all the fantastic side-trips out from them with light rucksacks.”
“For me, hiking and skiing in this unique environment (Mount Rainier) provides an opportunity to climb down off of my Nordic Track indoor exercise machine and participate in an aerobic activity in a wonderful outdoor setting. The beauty of Mount Rainier’s backcountry seems to make the hours and miles fly by. For scenic quality, I especially like the trails that lead to places above timberline, including Glacier Basin, Crystal Lakes and Crystal Peak and the Panhandle Gap, all of which are easily accessible via hard surfaced roads and within a couple of hours of my home near Lacey. This is truly a world class place that is practically in the backyards of millions of people that have no clue to what they own just down the road.”