Featured News | People | Voices from the Wild

Why Wilderness?

An Earth Day Reflection

Americans came together 49 years ago to celebrate the first Earth Day. We committed to making our planet a more livable place. We’ve cleaned up our water. We’ve reduced air pollution. We can drink and breathe easier now.

Author Phil Hough on a family backpacking adventure in Maine four years after the first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970.

We have built trails and saved wild rivers and wild places for ourselves, our kids and our grandkids. We have more room to roam free. The public has forests, mountains, deserts, valleys, streams, rivers, and meadows where we can all go to find our own wild place.

People’s passions are usually rooted to the land and water where they live. We think and act locally to make our corner of the earth a better place to be. But the Earth Day vision, as the name suggests, is global.

A passion to save wild places is in the hearts of many people. This drive has some common traits. But the answer to the question “why wilderness” is also a very personal one.

I hike and paddle into wild places today so I can feel like I did when I was 10 years old and my dad took me down the Allagash river in northern Maine and to the summit of Katahdin in Baxter State Park. There was so much new to me in those wild woods and waters; mystery, fun, excitement. I grew up more in those 10 days than I had in my first 10 years.

The author poses for a photo on the summit of Mt. Katahdin along with his mom and three
sisters. Since this hike in 1974, Phil has completed the triple crown of US long distance hiking:
the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail.

For many people, saving wild country is about leaving places for their kids and grandkids to explore and grow up wild in. As my friend and parent Rebecca Sanchez puts it: “I appreciate how the mountains bring my kids to life. Here they are free to roam, explore nature and help one another reach new heights.”

But wilderness is not only for our kids and future; it’s for all of us, now. We need to be able to find quiet places in our own wild backyards. We need places open for hiking, horseback riding, berry picking, fishing and hunting. We need places beyond the sounds and distractions motors bring. We need places to hear elk bugle, deer snort and mountain goats tap their hooves on loose rocks. We need to hear the owl ask “Who, who?”

Henry David Thoreau hiked all over New England because “being in the mountains is the closest thing we have experienced to Heaven on Earth.”

With Earth Day in our sights, many people will take action because they care about the wild flowers and native forests. Or they want to save wild places because bears, moose, wolverines and other critters need their own wild place too. Whether it’s our kids or mountain goat kids, we all need wild places where we can thrive.

Immanuel and Jaslynne Sanchez are all smiles at the top of Star Peak in the Proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness on the Idaho-Montana border, near the adoptive home of author Phil Hough. After a childhood roaming the wilds of the Northeast, Phil now resides in Sandpoint, ID and is the Executive Director of the Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness.

Ask yourself: What’s in your heart? Where’s your wild place? And, what will you do to save it?

After a successful career in the hospitality industry, I’ve answered these questions by devoting my life to wilderness advocacy in the Northern Rockies of Idaho and Montana. But I’ve never forgotten my New England roots and the wild places of the Northeast where my passion for wilderness began.

If wilderness is in your heart, I hope you’ll learn more about my adoptive Scotchman Peaks by becoming a Friend and joining our campaign.  I also hope you’ll join Northeast Wilderness Trust in support of protecting critical forever-wild landscapes in New England and the Adirondacks.  

What better way is there to celebrate Earth Day than to safeguard a portion of “Heaven on Earth” for the benefit of future generations?

Phil Hough is the executive director of the Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness. Phil lives in Sandpoint, ID and grew up in Massachusetts.

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