When Congress passed the Wilderness Act in 1964,
originally setting aside 9.1 million acres as
outdoorsman Paul Petzoldt believed that it was an important
step in the right direction, but that much more needed
to be done in order to protect our wilderness areas
from human impact. Petzoldt, who testified in favor
of the bill, believed that rules and regulations were
not enough — people had to be educated on how
to enjoy the outdoors safely without harming it. Petzoldt
wrote about this in his book, The New Wilderness Handbook. “In
testifying about the Wilderness Bill, a few of us suggested
that people needed to be taught how to use the new
official wilderness areas,” Petzoldt wrote. “However,
our ideas at that time were vague and not understood
by sponsors of the bill, who were convinced that legislation
alone would conserve the wilderness.”
It’s not a coincidence that one year after the
Wilderness Act was passed, Petzoldt founded NOLS. While
he played around with ideas of creating elaborate
outdoor tests that people had to pass before they could venture into the backcountry,
he decided that one way to help preserve wild areas would be to train people
to be conscientious leaders in the outdoors.
“We can enjoy the wild outdoors and still conserve it!” he wrote. “All
of us can learn to use the wilderness areas with so little disturbance that signs
of our passing will be healed by the seasonal rejuvenation of nature. But, unfortunately,
the methods and techniques of practical conservation are known to only a few;
therefore most users, no matter how well intentioned, become destroyers.”
Petzoldt knew that spending time in the outdoors
in a way that would minimally impact the earth
would require more work and sacrifice from people.
technically skilled leaders of outdoor expeditions, he was not only creating
leaders, he was ultimately teaching people to enjoy and care for wild areas.
And this, Petzoldt believed, was just as important as government legislation.