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Wilderness and the Myths of American Environmentalism

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By Rachel Miles

 

Saturday September 27 saw parents, students, and members from the community gathered in the Wortmann Ballroom to learn more about the Wilderness Act and American environmentalism- an event sponsored by Roanoke College and The Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Both outside of the ballroom and in the back of the room, informational boards were set up with pamphlets and volunteer opportunities for protecting the wild areas. Slogans such as “The Wilderness Needs You” or “We Like It Wild” or “The Wilderness is Yours” were the first to catch the eyes of those in attendance.

The night began with President Maxey introducing the event, and shortly after Dr. James Turner made his way to the podium in the front of the room to begin his lecture. He informed those who may not have known that this is the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. He discussed his book and the writing that he has done to promote keeping the wilderness protected and free.

His speech was divided up into four discussions on four myths. The first was that ‘Wilderness is a timeless and transcendent idea.’ Throughout history, wilderness has been a dynamic topic. However, the meaning of wilderness has changed over the years from logging and wood cabins to using a GPS to find a trail out of the woods.

The second myth is that ‘There is no wilderness in the East.’ This myth is completely dependent on the definition of wilderness, which does not necessarily point solely to the Great Plains of the west, but also to the mountain ranges and forests found on the east coast.

The third myth that he discusses is that ‘Wilderness was left behind by modern environmentalism.’ In fact, it began long before our modern understanding of what environmentalism is.

The final myth was that ‘The driving force behind American environmentalism is grassroots activism.’ Rather than a driving force serving as the only spring of passion, it is a partnership with this activism that wilderness protection moves forward.

At the conclusion of Turner’s speech, and after applause, the panelists were invited to the table set for them. Panel members included Dr. Rupert Cutler, Ron Tipton, Dr. James Turner, and three other environmental experts. A microphone was set up for any audience member who would like to bring a question to the panel, and there were prizes for the best questions brought forth for the panelists.