The Wilderness Act of 1964, 40 years old this year, was only the beginning of a grass-roots movement that spread across the West. In Aspen, the bill inspired three determined, visionary women Connie Harvey, Joy Caudill and Dottie Fox to spend the better part of two decades widening wilderness boundaries and more than doubling the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area.Today, three federally designated wilderness areas surround Aspen: Maroon Bells-Snowmass, Hunter-Frying Pan, and Collegiate Peaks. Together these lands comprise several hundred square miles and form a repository of rugged mountains, glacially carved valleys and diverse wildlife. They also represent the passion of wilderness protectors who fought to preserve pristine creation, guarding it from mans meddling and the direct influences of modern industrial life.Aspens wilderness warriors are largely responsible for expanding the Maroon Bells wilderness and spearheading the creation of the Hunter-Fryingpan. They were also instrumental in the reation of the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, a 167,000-acre area that includes a healthy chunk of Pitkin County, and the Raggeds Wilderness in neighboring Gunnison County.Wilderness is a tremendous asset, enthused Dottie Fox, an artist and avid hiker. It protects our air and water, and it gives us one of the most pristine environments in the whole country.It was a really important bill and it has really worked, confirmed Joy Caudill. With the effort of this bill, we have set aside some really important land. It was a landmark bill in the first place and we need to remind people of what a wonderful thing its been.In order to preserve the land in its natural state, explained Connie Harvey, it is absolutely necessary to have the kind of protection afforded by official wilderness areas. It is wonderful to feel that it is safe, that this is one battle we wont have to go on fighting. Its something Im very proud of because it was very important.The law and the philosophyDesignated wilderness is protected from the noise and pollution of motorized vehicles and other machines. Transportation must be on foot or horseback only; even bicycles and wheelchairs are banned from wilderness. No cabins may be constructed and no-impact camping is required. Travel through wilderness may be rigorous on rough trails with no bridges across streams. Challenges and risks are part of the experience.In sum, wilderness demands that individuals be aware of natures larger presence and reduce their own.The kernel of the wilderness philosophy is gleaned from what Albert Schweitzer realized from the wilds of Africa. The great fault of all ethics hitherto has been that they believed themselves to have to deal only with the relations of man to man A man is ethical only when life, as such, is sacred to him, that of plants and animals, as well as that of his fellow men.Wilderness represents a philosophy, an ethic and arguably a theology. Wilderness provides a rare recreational value sought by ever-increasing numbers of people. When the Wilderness Act was passed, wilderness was not so much a destination or designation as a wild quality associated with a particular landscape. It was this quality that propelled Connie, Joy and Dottie to dedicate themselves to conservation and to found the Aspen Wilderness Workshop in 1967.Before Congress officially designated wilderness in 1964, the Maroon Bells-Snowmass region had been protected administratively by the Forest Service since the 1950s for obvious wilderness values. Despite major industrial activity in the Aspen area during the mining boom of the 1880s, the highest, most rugged mountain terrain was left mostly untouched.The Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area was established by Congress in 1964 with about 80,000 acres focused around the 14,000-foot Maroon Bells themselves. By 1980, this wedge of pristine mountain topography covered 180,000 acres and included six of Colorados 54 Fourteeners, thanks to the Wilderness Workshop.It started very low-key, recalled Joy Caudill, just as neighbors agreeing that we should write letters about this. We were very interested in wilderness and the preservation of our resources. We started writing letters at the dining room table. It grew gradually, and we didnt have an organization. Then Connie said, You know, it would look more important, it would carry more clout, if we sounded like an organization. It was just a bunch of people standing around a table with a lot of USGS maps spread around, mused Connie Harvey, and we were marking them up as to where we thought the wilderness boundaries should logically be. We worked on it, marking maps, making phone calls, writing letters, lobbying Congress, and eventually we got much more wilderness, and we got congressional protection, which really means something.Making a differenceThe achievements of the Wilderness Workshop will be featured in a film documentary Wild by Nature that will highlight the contributions of Connie, Joy and Dottie. The film is scheduled for completion in the fall by local production company First Light Films. Tim McFlynn, a Wilderness Workshop board member, got the idea for the project during the boards monthly potluck meetings.Their story is the story of the environmental movement, of the Wilderness Act, emphasized McFlynn. If you think about the goals of the major environmental legislation coming out of Congress, they dont implement themselves. It is home-grown, grass-roots activism that implements those ideals.Here, right in Aspen, are three women who, as young mothers in the 60s and this was before Earth Day were self-taught, grass-roots activists implementing the ideals of the Wilderness Act, McFlynn continued. They had passion and perseverance, and today you can see from outer space the results of their work, their humble, passionate work.Film producers Chelsea Congdon and James Brundige will detail this passion with help from cinematographer Edgar Boyles. The film will be a local production under the auspices of the Wilderness Workshop, now headed by executive director Sloan Shoemaker.I admire their spirit, their grit and their uncompromising ideals that gave us some of the premier wilderness lands in the state, if not the nation, said Shoemaker. They recognized how profound the Wilderness Act was and what an unprecedented opportunity it afforded to protect wild places. They seized that opportunity, and its an honor to carry on their legacy. There are still wilderness-quality lands out there that were striving to recognize as wilderness.In the 1970s, while protecting the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, the Wilderness Workshop also advocated for the nearby Hunter-Frying Pan Wilderness. This mostly pristine area had not been included in prior wilderness studies because of previous water-diversion projects. However, the Wilderness Workshop found that under the Wilderness Act it could qualify.The Workshop collected signatures from 3,000 local residents who supported preservation and decided to display them in dramatic fashion.We bought a big roll of butcher paper and we pasted it end to end with the petitions, laughed Dottie Fox. We asked the county commissioners to hang it from the third floor of the courthouse, and when we unrolled it, the roll went all the way down the building, over a roof, out across the sidewalk and out into Main Street.The best thing was that our representative was there. We had a meeting with him that night and we wrapped the roll in red ribbon and gave it to him and said, Take this back to Congress and show them how the people feel about this. Well, he voted for it and it went into Wilderness.Congress created the Hunter-Frying Pan Wilderness in 1978, giving Roaring Fork Valley residents and other wilderness-lovers another 82,000 acres, or 128 square miles, of wild mountain landscape, including much of the upper Fryingpan Valley, the rugged Williams Mountains and the popular Lost Man Loop trail near Independence Pass. In 1993, the Wilderness Workshop succeeded in adding 8,300 acres around Spruce Creek to the Hunter-Frying Pan.Wilderness is my churchConnie, Joy and Dottie still live close to nature, and they all care for wilderness just like they did 40 years ago. They find strength in nature, as they have all their lives.I remember being a child and growing up in a city and how important nature was for me, recalled Connie.As a native of Colorado, one of those endangered species, joked Dottie, she discovered a strong resonance with nature in Estes Park, where her parents had a cabin.I rented a horse and would just ride forever. There were no fences then. Id ride way out, then give the horse his reins and it would go back to the stable. I loved being outside, feeling the openness and the mountains. Ive always loved the mountains.My parents brought me up in Denver, said Joy, and wed go to the mountains every weekend, so at an early age I had a passion to get out in the mountains and enjoy them. I love camping, and when I moved here in 1946, we would hike to the high country. I just have this passion for the backcountry.Solace and grounding are aspects of wilderness that Dottie Fox recognized when her partner and fellow wilderness advocate, Murray Pope, died about 10 years ago.An hour after Murray died, I went for a hike, alone, up East Snowmass Creek. And the longer I walked, the more I lost track of everything, and suddenly the wilderness began to work its magic on me, and it put things into perspective. Wilderness is where I go when I want to be renewed. It may sound corny, but to me, wilderness is like a cathedral.Wilderness refuels my soul, said Joy Caudill. I can go up in the mountains as tight as a bowstring, uptight and worried, and gradually it all falls off. It puts me back together. Its a chance to see wildlife, to see how things really are, should be, or were in their untouched state. Its freedom and fresh air and clean water. It is my church.The poetry from a couple hundred years ago related to nature, explained Connie Harvey, but thats almost gone now, and is considered quaint, romantic and silly. And yet, man is an animal and we belong in nature to a degree that were robbed of these days. I feel so sorry for people who never get out in nature.With only 2 percent of the lower 48 states designated as wilderness, about equal to the amount of land that has been paved, wilderness is rare. That is why appreciating wilderness and vowing to protect it became a theology and a deep, personal mission for these three women.The whole idea, said Connie, is that there are places that deserve to remain in their natural condition. I wish we had been able to save more. Theres very little land remaining that hasnt been affected by humans. The wilderness law is good, but there are people bending it all the time, so it requires constant vigilance.Just the fact that wilderness is untrammeled by man makes it very special, Dottie added. Its a tremendous, vital resource to wildlife. It protects our watersheds. There are all kinds of plants there. And just the beauty of it The more people we get, the more space well need to get away from everything.From 1964 to 1980, we were working on it, said Joy, and we underwent a huge learning process that was very exciting. There were huge ups and downs, and there was a lot of camaraderie. It was a lot of like-minded people working together for a wonderful cause that we all believed in. It was very important.Before their faces are carved, like Mt. Rushmore, in the Maroon Bells, these three wilderness warriors make it clear that recognition and fame had nothing to do with their efforts.People protect wilderness not for money, fame or glory. Its because of a passion that is latent in people, and it comes out when theyre exposed to wilderness. The three of us had real staying power, but we dont give a hoot for glory. Were just interested in results.Paul Andersen is a columnist and contributing writer to The Aspen Times.
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User