The Wilderness Act, signed into law on Sept. 3, 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, created the National Wilderness Preservation System, setting aside 54 pristine areas nationally in a bid to preserve them in perpetuity.
The first 54 "were the first-round draft picks - the very paragons of wilderness," noted the newsletter of Wilderness Workshop, the long-time Aspen based advocacy group, and they included Maroon Bells-Snowmass, among the first five designated wildernesses in Colorado.
"Is this a cause for celebration or what?"
That is not a rhetorical question posed by the newsletter, "Wild Works."
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the Workshop is spearheading a Maroon Bells Birthday Bash, at the base of Aspen Highlands on Aug. 2. The bash will include live music, food and family activities. A Wilderness Symposium will be held at Aspen Institute’s Paepcke Auditorium on Sept. 10.
A critical aspect of the Wilderness Act was that it enabled, by further acts of Congress, additional preservation areas beyond the original 54, which covered about 9 million acres. There are now 758 wilderness areas, covering almost 110 million acres, according to Wilderness.net.
Colorado now has 43 designated wilderness areas, but does not rank in the top five states with the most, California, Arizona, Nevada, Alaska and Oregon. Alaska contains just over half of all wilderness acres, followed in terms of acreage by California, Arizona, Idaho and Washington.
In its most memorable passage, the Wilderness Workshop newsletter says, the original act defines wilderness as "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."
Or, as LBJ put it in signing the act, "If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it."