Celebrating 50 years of the Wilderness Act | SteamboatToday.com

Celebrating 50 years of the Wilderness Act

The glacial arrete known as the Devil’s Causeway tests the nerve of hikers while providing a dramatic entry portal to the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.

The Wilderness Act of 1964

The residents of Northwest Colorado, who enjoy dramatic views of the Flat Tops mountains, are uniquely situated to appreciate the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act on Wednesday.

The act was signed into law in1964 by President Lyndon Johnson, but the Flat Tops did not attain wilderness status until 1975. Despite the 11-year delay, the Flat Tops and Trappers Lake are widely regarded as the cradle of statutory wilderness in the U.S. That’s because it was after a trip to Trappers Lake in 1919 to survey for cabin sites, a young U.S. Forest Service recreation engineer named Arthur Carhart made the argument that some areas of special beauty should be set aside from development.

In a memo he wrote after his visit to Trappers, Carhart laid out for the first time, the notion that the Forest Service was the appropriate agency to set aside and protect some of America’s wildest and most scenic lands.

The Flat Tops also represent the headwaters of the White and Yampa rivers. The Yampa, which begins in the town of Yampa and flows through Steamboat, Hayden and Craig, also played an indirect role in the passage of the Wilderness Act.

In the early 1950s, the federal Bureau of Reclamation was contemplating the billion dollar Colorado River Storage Project comprising a series of massive series of concrete dams that would tame the wild Colorado and store its spring flows for development of the West. The Echo Park Dam was proposed to be built near the confluence of the Yampa and Green in Dinosaur National Monument.

The dam would have flooded the scenic canyon we know today, but David Brower of the Sierra Club and Howard Zahniser of the Wilderness Society launched a successful campaign against Echo Park Dam, arguing it would have set a dangerous precedent to permit a dam to be built in a national monument or national park. It was Zahniser, who went on to campaign for the wilderness act, testifying before Congress and revising the language of the wilderness bill. He died before it was signed into law, but knowing that his efforts had been successful.

Celebration of Wilderness

Routt County residents will have the opportunity to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act with a series of local activities.

The signature event will be Walk for the Wilderness from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at Olympian Hall at Howelsen Hill. Participants will pick up a passport and then walk along the Yampa River Core Trail, where they can visit informational booths presented by event sponsors Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, Trapper’s Lake Chapter of the Sierra Club, Friends of Wilderness, Yampatika and the U.S. Forest Service.

For every stop along the walk a person makes, they receive a ticket that will be entered into a prize drawing that includes items donated by Big Agnes, SmartWool, Ski Haus and other local businesses. The event also features live music from the Yampa Valley Boys.

In honor of the anniversary, Bud Werner Memorial Library also is hosting three Wilderness movies. “Wild By Law” will be shown Tuesday, “Green Fire” on Wednesday and “Forever Wild” on Thursday. All showings are at 7 p.m.

The glacial arrete known as the Devil's Causeway tests the nerve of hikers while providing a dramatic entry portal to the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.
Tom Ross