Guest commentary: A Birthday Bash for a great idea
It seems fitting that this year, during which is the 50th birthday of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, more than a half-dozen moose have taken up residence at Maroon Lake, while record numbers of human visitors arrive daily to hike, camp or just gaze in awe. It is a grand place, isn’t it?
Its protection was made possible 50 years ago by an act of Congress that today, in a time of do-nothing congresses, feels like a small miracle of achievement and foresight. The Wilderness Act of 1964 was designed to protect our most pristine lands from things like oil and gas development, logging, road building and motorized use — activities that lead to noise, air and water pollution, habitat fragmentation and degradation of the landscape.
The act established the National Wilderness Preservation System and designated the original 54 wilderness areas, including our own beloved Maroon Bells-Snowmass.
As President Lyndon B. Johnson declared upon 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.”
The record number of visitors to the Bells this year suggests that more people than ever want to “glimpse” that world — to spend a day among wildlife and wildflowers, breathing some of the cleanest air in the Lower 48, enjoying clear waters, silence and, by virtue of its expanse, even solitude. Wilderness is the antidote to our increasingly fast-paced, plugged-in world. It is where time falls away, where kids and families reconnect with the natural world and each other, and where nature’s random acts of beauty await around every bend in the trail.
With the Maroon Bells in our backyard, along with other wild wonders like the Ireland-green tundra of the Continental Divide and the dazzling autumn displays around Marble, it’s easy to take wilderness’s gifts for granted. But just imagine for a moment a road leading up to West Maroon Pass or a gas well visible from your campsite, brightly lit and pumping away 24/7, or any other so-called “improvements.”
Anyone who has spent time in the wilderness areas surrounding our valley, including the Hunter-Fryingpan, Collegiate Peaks and Raggeds, knows that these places are perfect just as they are, left alone, in the most natural state they can possibly be. Need a dose of hope? Take a walk in the mountains. Watch a native cutthroat rise in an alpine lake. Smell a wild rose along a trail. Listen to the beeps only of marmots, not cars.
But the effects of wilderness aren’t merely psychological — they’re real, as real as the mountains wilderness contains. Their forests soak up carbon and give us clean air. Their streams run pure and clean, giving life to the fish, wildlife and plants that depend on them and to the humans downstream. Wilderness also gives large animals the necessary room to roam and gives all the fauna and flora a fighting chance to adapt to a changing climate. By explicitly declaring ourselves visitors only, we have tacitly recognized wilderness as the home of the rest of life.
In so doing, wilderness serves as a reminder that we can think beyond ourselves, that we can share these riches with the rest of life and pass them on to future generations. Wilderness is the opposite of human hubris. It puts our humble, generous, forward-thinking, best selves on display.
To celebrate this great idea, three local organizations — Wilderness Workshop, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and the U.S. Forest Service — are teaming up to present a giant, joyous, communitywide party.
It’s called the Maroon Bells Birthday Bash, and it’s Saturday. And where better to do it than at Aspen Highlands, the gateway to the Bells?
Highlights of this once-in-a-half-century event include four kick-ass bands, locally brewed beer, home-grown food, free doughnuts, a keynote address by renowned author Rick Bass and even a Maroon Bells-shaped birthday cake! With tickets only $10 in advance (and kids free), this event may sell out, so avoid disappointment by buying your tickets online at
Come celebrate on Saturday a place and an idea deserving of celebration. A half-dozen moose and over 100,000 visitors a year can’t be wrong.
Karin Teague is the president of the board of Wilderness Workshop, which has been advocating for and protecting wild lands and wildlife in the White River National Forest region since 1967.
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