We in America have a problem. Idiosyncracies of our wilderness preservation laws and their implementation and advocacy have (largely) bifurcated those dedicated to the outdoors as a worthy part of American culture. I’ve yet to find a more stark articulation of this than the Swan View Coalition’s Code of Responsible Recreation (link withheld to protect google rankings). To quote the page in its entirety:
The wild is being driven out of America’s backcountry by ultra-marathon foot races, biking, motorized vehicles, and other frontcounty sports run amok.
We therefore offer the following code of conduct:
Responsible backcountry recreation remains rooted in quality, not quantity.
It is measured by depth of appreciation, not by fastest speed or longest distance.
It minimizes haste, hardware, competition, and intrusion.
It engages people in conservation through mindful practice of minimal impact.
It reserves the backcountry for traditional, contemplative recreation that can’t be had in the frontcountry.
Conservation of fish, wildlife and America’s backcountry requires people acting more responsibly, not more people pursuing cheap thrills and extreme sports.
The code has its strengths, weaknesses, and flaws, but well epitomizes the conflict (understand that I’m simplifying for the sake of brevity, and that thankfully most folks don’t experience the conflict as so stark or black and white). The old guard of Sierra Club heavy and slow backpackers has (for example) no interest in seeing bikes allowed back into Wilderness, whereas the younger cadre finds it hard to support a rigid and exclusionary vision of wild recreation.
There are vast problems of implementation here, but thankfully Mr. Hammer (who runs the Swan Coalition and is perhaps most recently notorious for trying to shut down the Swan Crest 100 last year) has his history and philosophy backwards, and this will hopefully resolve some of the political problems as generations move forward in decades to come. The nut of the argument seems to be first that profundity of experience can only be achieved via a narrow band of experience, and second that it has been this certain sort of experience which has created the Wilderness system in America as we know it today.
Disproving the second shows well how flawed the first idea is. The giants of wilderness thinking in America were, almost to a man, characterized by their immoderate participation in and with the wild. Bob Marshall went on 50 mile day hikes. John Muir went on peak bagging trips intentionally under-equipped, climbed tall tress during thunderstorms, and slept out in the open on glaciers. Aldo Leopold hunted bears solo in New Mexico. Thoreau canoed the little-known rivers of Maine. Theodore Roosevelt, while he was president, ditched the Secret Service and went hiking all day in Yellowstone by himself. Sedate backpacking trips do not inspire, and do not often bespeak of, the character necessary to communicate great truths about wilderness, and therein the human condition. There is compelling evidence in this realm to think that, in the realm of great art and politics, mellowness of experience engenders mediocrity of action. The TR in his twenties would, were he alive today, drive down from western North Dakota to do Hardrock.
This being the case, it should be no surprise that the three rotating banner photos currently on the Swan Crest Coalitions website all feature evidence of human habitation, and were thus not taken from within Wilderness or wilderness. It is also little surprise that all the pictures on the site of people hiking are from the Jewel Basin, the most used and easiest to access alpine terrain in Montana (save Logan Pass). It would seem that the coalition would do better to understand that which they purport to protect. In wilderness, tactile understanding is a prerequisite for advocacy.
Thus do I refute the Keith Hammers of the world.