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Balancing wild lands and human intervention

April 23, 2012
By JOE HACKETT - Outdoors Columnist ( , Lake Placid News

As a rule, outdoor travelers don't like rules. They often choose to travel in desolate areas simply because there are no rules, regulations or other such man-made limitations.

Wild lands provide them with an unfettered opportunity to travel beyond the constraints of modern society. This is the quality that defines freedom of the woods, and the unlimited opportunities such travel offers us to enjoy these unique freedoms.

The opportunity to range far and wide is a critical component of travel through wild lands. It is an American edict that sets our nation apart from the European culture.

Article Photos

Despite the best efforts of local tourism officials, there is still no effective method to reproduce the natural beauty of the Adirondack region, which ranges from soaring mountaintops to raging streams and rivers.
Photo by Joe Hackett

Wilderness, by definition, is a place where a man or woman can conduct themselves as they see fit, free from the established boundaries that are defined by modern society.

Rules, regulations and other such man-made restrictions are the antithesis of wilderness, as they represent an artificial attempt to rein in the longheld human need and desire to enjoy the unbridled freedom of the wild woods.

However, I've come to understand and accept both the need and necessity of having a set of established parameters for woodland travel. Without some sort of man-made order and design, wild areas would be unable to maintain their wild character.

It would appear, at first glance, that the imposition of a prescribed set of rules and regulations is counterintuitive to the purpose and definition of wilderness as a place, or a sanctuary, that is reserved and preserved in order to remain free from the hand of man.

The paradox of this unnatural equation begs the question, "Can true wilderness still exist without the intervention of the hand of man?"

Furthermore, the argument may demand a more absolute definition of wilderness, beyond the widely accepted description provided by the Wilderness Act of 1964. According to the act, wilderness is "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."

The very notion of wilderness is a human definition and exists only in the human mind. Does anyone believe that bear, otters or ravens recognize the difference between wilderness and wild forest lands?

Wilderness is a human term, and remains as artificial as the gum wrappers and orange peels that are often left behind in the path of man. It is difficult to escape the irony that a man-made wilderness is quantified by the absence of any trace of human influence.

Without the presence of human traffic, do truly wild places become non-wilderness? Conversely, at what point does an overabundance of human presence determine what is wilderness and what isn't.

Although Mount Marcy is situated at the epicenter of the "Greatest Wilderness in the Eastern US," does the tired, old peak still possess the proper qualities to qualify for inclusion as part of the surrounding wilderness?

Another grating issue that often rears its ugly head in any discussion of wilderness is the omnipresent requirement for development of the necessary infrastructures, management policies and the resulting rules and regulations.

Always looming large on the near horizon, with the foreboding presence of an old bruin guarding a favorite berry patch, is the expense of maintaining the wilderness. Interjected into any such notion looms the possibility, indeed the necessity, of collecting some sort of user fee.

The regular maintenance of wilderness areas and the necessary management and patrol of such lands requires a steady source of funding, which presents another increasingly difficult set of dilemmas.

Does a wilderness area remain true to the ideals of wilderness when there is an entrance fee required for admittance?

Does the concept of an entrance fee fit the definition of a land untrammeled by man or are such fees indicative of an artificial amusement park?


The value of wild lands

Although an artificial Great Escape has been located near Lake George for many years, there is a much older and all-natural Great Escape that has been firmly ensconced within the parameters of the Blue Line since the late 1880s.

The wild forests and raging rivers of the more northerly Great Escape serve to protect our water, freshen the air, sustain wildlife and guarantee that current and future generations will have access to one of America's most pristine outdoor playgrounds.

In addition, these wild lands provide a wide range of recreational opportunities that help to drive the local economy, provide sustenance and offer unique opportunities for scientific study.

In our increasingly technological society, wild lands also provide us with the opportunity to reconnect with the natural world.

It has been well established that the time we spend in the woods can be very restorative. When we are surrounded by trees and green foliage, there is an undeniable calming and renewing effect provided by our immersion in nature.

Studies have revealed that people who recreate outdoors on a regular basis, or for whom outdoor recreation was important while growing up, are more likely than all others to be completely satisfied with their lives.

Those who recreate most often are most likely to be completely satisfied with their choice of careers, friends and their perceived success in life.

Dutch researchers report that the closer you live to nature, the healthier you're likely to be. People who live within one mile of a park or a wooded area experience less anxiety and depression.

Although many still rail against the Adirondacks having been designated as a park, we are very fortunate that earlier generations determined our forests, lakes, mountains and raging rivers were of greater human value intact in a natural state, rather than being packed out as industrial freight.

Likely the greatest value of all is the knowledge that we will still be able to pass on these wild forested lands - whether true wilderness or not - to our children and grandchildren. It is an easy notion to understand, especially when it is considered from the vantage point of a mountain lookout or the still waters of a backwoods pond.

Take a walk out back, and see for yourself.



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