Colson: Wildfest — a fine time to look upon good works | AspenTimes.com

Colson: Wildfest — a fine time to look upon good works

John Colson
Hit & Run

Dusk was approaching Saturday as the faithful trooped up to Owl Farm, the legendary Woody Creek compound of Hunter S. Thompson that still is occupied by his widow.

But the throng was not there to swoon over its happy proximity to the scene of so much wild behavior, explosive political commentary and flights of literary madness that characterized the life and times of the Good Doctor, as he is known.

Nor were they there to pay tribute to Anita Thompson, who came to the valley as the writer’s assistant, became his indispensable companion, wife and widow, and now is the shepherd of his legacy.

No, they were there for Wildfest, the annual “friendraiser” staged at different places around the Roaring Fork Valley by Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop.

The attendees were there to pay homage to an idea, a concept, a philosophical and geopolitical defensive move that aims to preserve as much as possible of what is left of the wilderness that once covered these United States of America.

Oh, and they were there to listen to some pretty fine music, eat some hearty chow offered up by the folks from Slow Groovin’ BBQ in Marble and perhaps even learn a bit about the organization that had brought them all together.

I was there, of course, to check out the action, hook up with old friends and contemplate many things, including the absence of Thompson and the impermanence of our human experience in the face of the much more durable nature of the thing we were there to celebrate — wilderness.

The site was a long pasture sloping upward toward the peaks that surround Woody Creek and was not wilderness in any formal sense of the term. This was pasture land dating back more than a century and, since being acquired by Thompson, has been both a retreat and a balm for the busy mind of the man who took us along on a long, strange literary trip that ranged from riding with the Hells Angels motorcycle gang in the 1960s to spending a year on the presidential campaign trail leading up to the 1972 election and much, much more.

Of course, given that Thompson was a true wild man in so many ways, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to refer to any terrain he inhabited as a patch of wilderness of one sort or another.

But the event Saturday was not about Hunter, though I heard people ask about the house barely visible in a copse of trees and about the man who once lived there.

No, the night’s activities were about the land, specifically about wilderness and public lands, the preservation of which has been the mission of Wilderness Workshop since it was started in Aspen nearly 50 years ago by a group of Aspen ladies nicknamed the “Maroon Belles” — Joy Caudill, Dottie Fox and Connie Harvey.

It has always struck me as kind of wonderful, in the literal sense of that word, that what was then known as the Aspen Wilderness Workshop first planted its roots in a town that has since become a byword for ostentatious wealth, conspicuous consumption and rampant consumerism.

But, hey, that’s the way things work out sometimes, I guess — the best ideas and efforts can come to fruition in the oddest places, and if the place gets a little too glamorous, glitzy and high-priced, well, relocation is always an option.

Anyway, the Wildfest celebration was a pretty damned good time, and among the best moments of the evening was seeing Harvey, still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and clearly enjoying the adulation that came her way from well-wishers in the crowd.

After all, it was these three women whose tireless devotion to wildlands nearly half a century ago paved the way for wilderness designation for the Hunter-Fryingpan and Collegiate Peaks areas in the nearby mountains and who did a lot of the heavy lifting it took to win congressional approval for the 1978 Endangered American Wilderness Act and the 1980 Colorado Wilderness Act.

And the organization they created has become an indispensable weapon in the fight for wilderness areas new and envisioned and for the preservation of public lands against assaults of all kinds.

I must say, too, that it was good to see Jimmy Ibbotson (of the old Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) up onstage again. He was moving and playing a little slower than he used to, but then, so were many of those watching and applauding and remembering back to times when he was a livelier, even frenzied presence at the band’s shows.

Yep, it was a fine time, and it served to remind me why I’ve loved it here all these years since I first got here in 1978.

Some great things have been done here by a motley crew of wild men and wild women who like to come out of the woodwork every now and then to survey the results of their handiwork and pronounce it good.

Email at jbcolson51@gmail.com.


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