Break out the balloons and party hats. Saturday is birthday time for Maroon Bells-Snowmass, one of the nation's first 54 proclaimed Wilderness areas, including four other originals in Colorado.
The Wilderness Act, signed into law on Sept. 3, 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, created the National Wilderness Preservation System, setting aside the 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," writes Dave Reed in the newsletter of Wilderness Workshop, the long-time Aspen based advocacy group.
"Is this a cause for celebration or what?"
That is not a rhetorical question from Reed in "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. Saturday's bash will include live music, food and family activities. A Wilderness Symposium will be held at Aspen Institute’s Paepcke Auditorium on Sept. 10.
"The Wilderness Act has been called 'the most beautiful piece of legislation ever written,'" Reed writes. "In soaring language that was hammered out over eight years and dozens of drafts, it speaks of the need 'to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.' In its most memorable passage, it 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.'"
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.
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."