This is a significant year for NOLS as it’s
the 40th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act in the
States. As you all know, wilderness is at the very
core of NOLS, and it is no coincidence that Paul Petzoldt
started NOLS one year after the signing of this act.
Paul foresaw that interest and visitation to wilderness
was going to increase, and it was important for these
visitors to be educated in wilderness skills, leadership
and conservation. Each issue of the Leader during this
anniversary year will dedicate a portion of its content
to the Wilderness Act and wilderness.
The longer my relationship with wilderness, the more
difficult it is for me to describe or define. As a
kid in central Minnesota, the wilderness was 40 acres
of a creek bottom pasture. It was a place of adventure, filled with the unknown,
and inspiring a bit of fear. It was a place where I could get muddy and could
I never visited a “designated” Wilderness area until I was 18, but
my relationship wasn’t limited to visits. I found my reading interests
turning toward explorers and their adventures. I also sought out wilderness photo
books and developed a list of the remote areas in the world that I wanted to
visit. My relationship was developing with the land, and at the time there was
little relevance to people in the wilderness. I developed a passion for climbing,
altitude and winter camping, and this added a new edge to my zest for wild places.
As I experienced international wilderness, where indigenous people resided, I
found that wilderness took on yet another fascinating dimension. Spending my
last college semester with NOLS showed me that wilderness could also be the ultimate
Somewhere in my personal timeframe, I began to think
about wilderness stewardship. Desert Solitaire
and other books prompted me to look at how I could
and support wilderness. Wilderness became one of those things worth fighting
for and definitely worth saving. David Brower, Mardy Murie, Roderick Nash and
others became my heroes, and time with them inspired me.
As my relationship with wilderness continued, people
and education seemed to play a more important role.
I loved teaching and spending time with students
in the backcountry. I have 25 years of watching tens of thousands of students
grow and change with lessons taught by their instructors, fellow students and
the wilderness. I have seen how powerful wilderness education can be. Today,
many of our schools aren’t comfortable teaching in the outdoors, and thus
students receive little experiential education on our natural environment. But
NOLS Instructors understand the outdoors with both their hearts and their minds.
The wilderness also helped build the bonds of my
closest friendships. I even proposed to my wife
while sea kayaking through gale force winds in
of Prince William Sound. I have found my memories of wilderness would not be
the same without my fellow wilderness travelers. Wilderness is a place of bonding.
So my definition of wilderness has expanded a bit
from a place where I got muddy and lost. While
I celebrate the anniversary of the Wilderness
am not able
to offer a concise personal definition. But I do know that wilderness for
me has drawn out tears of awe, tears of joy,
tears of pain and tears of passion.
Today, this place where man does not permanently reside is the place where
I feel most at home.