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The Leader

Remembering Wilderness

By John Gans
Reprinted from The Leader, Fall 2002, Vol. 18, No. 1

  Grizzly Bear
  © Stephanie Kessler
The Canadian government recently announced plans to create five new marine conservation areas, and 10 new national parks. This landmark declaration would nearly double the total area of national parks in Canada. It would add 39,000 acres to the Canadian park system’s 39 existing national parks.

The locations would include a biologically and geographically diverse collection, including lowland forests in Manitoba, an area east of Thunder Bay on Lake Superior, areas close to the Queen Charlotte Islands, the Gulf Islands of British Columbia, the eastern arm of Great Slave Lake and Bathurst Island in Nunavut.

This announcement grabbed my attention for a couple of reasons. First off, I spent a month this summer camping and hiking in parks and wilderness areas of western Canada. I was impressed by the spectacular wilderness throughout that region. It was also obvious that the future of many wild areas were at a crossroads, with the significant growth of Calgary, Vancouver and other population centers in the region. It clearly struck me as a timely decision that needed to be addressed.

Another reason I took particular note of this decision was the contrast between the headlines in Canada and the headlines in the United States. While land conservation was talked about North of the border, there has been little recent talk of wilderness in the United States. In the last year, our headlines have been about terrorism, war with Iraq, Global Crossing, MCI Worldcom, Enron, a crashing stock market and Al Qaeda. All of these headlines are indeed of great concern, but I believe that one of the untold tragedies of the last year has been that wilderness issues have been nearly wiped off the priority list for our national consciousness. This further challenges our organization to expose more students to wilderness and to build the skills and connections that will insure their return to wild areas. In announcing the additions to parks in Canada, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien stated, “We owe it to Canadians and to the world to be wise stewards of these lands and waters.” At NOLS we owe it to our world to teach our students wilderness skills and a wilderness ethic that will help all of our graduates to be wise stewards of our public lands and waters.

In this Leader, you’ll hear about the Educational Excellence Award that NOLS received from the Natural Resources Council of America. The award recognized our Leave No Trace (LNT) curriculum work and in particular the work of Michael Cheek, our LNT Coordinator. At this time in particular, we were pleased to receive this confirmation that we continue to build strong wilderness ethics for our graduates. You will also find a profile on NOLS alumnus Mark Rockefeller’s conservation efforts in Wyoming.

I’m pleased to see the cover article on the Noble Hotel and its history and legacy. We all know that our graduates leave NOLS with a connection to wilderness. In addition, the students that graduate from NOLS Rocky Mountain leave with a connection to the Noble Hotel and the small western town where it sits. Most of us can recollect our feelings when we first stepped into that grand old building and remember even more strongly “returning home” to the Noble at the end of our course. At NOLS our written mission demands that we care for wilderness, but our unwritten mission prompts us to care for this grand old historic building. We have been in the midst of giving the Noble a much-needed facelift. I am pleased to see the response and support our alumni are giving to that effort.

Finally, in this Leader you will find information on new courses at NOLS for ’03. I urge you to give them a look, and join us for a wilderness education experience that will reconnect you with wilderness and allow you to leave behind the other headlines for awhile. Whether a new course offering, a course in the spectacular wilderness of Canada, or our classic, and still amazing Wind River Wilderness course, we look forward to having you join us in the coming year!



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