Good, Clean, Dangerous Places

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Outside magazine, September 1999

Good, Clean, Dangerous Places
Wilderness is where we find our deepest imagery, our purest freedom, our truest selves. We'd be lost without it, and we've never needed it more than we do now.


"In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness...."

We at Outside are greatful to have been a beneficiary of the New American Revolution whose Declaration of Interdependence—the Wilderness Act of 1964, 35 years old this month—is quoted above. We love wilderness both for what it is, and for all that it isn't. We love wilderness for its obvious virtues: cradle of biodiversity, critical filter of our water and lungs of our air, gallery of infinite beauty. What true wilderness is not is a place for wheels or any other landscape-transforming works of man, or a place that one generation has a right to extinguish and thus steal from the generations that follow.

The sacrifices we make to preserve wilderness are not just worthwhile, they're positively patriotic. Wild lands helped define this country; our ancestors, taking a cue from the original inhabitants, learned to see the natural splendors of the New World as the landscape of freedom. Some of them liked to brag that wildness even saved civilization: It preserved the world.

When the WIlderness Act was signed, nine million acres "untrammeled by man," from New Hampshire to California, were set aside "for the permanent good of the whole people." The people's wilderness now consists of nearly 105 million acres—a mere 4.5 percent of our national territory, and very litle of it added in this decade.

Another thing about wilderness: It's dangerous out there. It also tends to be politically dangerous—something that may be about to change (we hope). In the pages that follow, you'll find news and some immodest proposals and perhaps some inspiration to protect and love some wilderness of your own.

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