In this issue of the Leader and the two to follow,
we pay tribute to wilderness – its history, true
meaning and importance to the natural world. We celebrate
its existence. We also pay tribute to a man whose life
was dedicated to wilderness – its meaning,
history and importance to the natural world. And
|Wes Henry loved spending time in the wilderness,
and worked to make sure other outdoor enthusiasts
had a healthy wilderness system to enjoy.
On December 16, 2003, on his 55th birthday, Wes Henry
lost his battle with cancer, leaving a void in the
ranks of professional wilderness stewards and in the
and minds of those who knew him and his work. Wes dedicated his career to the
preservation of wild lands, last serving the National Park Service as National
Wilderness Program Manager in the agency’s Washington, D.C. office. Within
the agency, Wes was a champion for long-term management of a healthy wilderness
system, and for providing field managers with the tools necessary to manage wilderness
as a unique and valued resource.
Wes understood wilderness, the importance of people’s connection to it,
and its critical role in the future of healthy wild lands. Eleanor Huffines,
the Wilderness Society’s Alaska Director and a former NOLS employee, says, “Wes’ strong
and fundamental sense of duty to preserve a legacy of wilderness for future generations
continues to inspire park employees and activists around the country.” A
long-time advocate for responsible recreation, Wes also spearheaded the Park
Service’s efforts to embrace and expand the Leave No Trace (LNT) program.
He was instrumental in creating a scholarship program to encourage further LNT
education for Park Service employees.
NOLS’ relationship with Wes began in 1970, when he completed a Wind River
Wilderness course. He went on to graduate from an Instructor course in 1971.
Hand- and type-written letters between Wes and NOLS employees in 1972 show that
Wes engaged NOLS in research in support of his graduate work at the University
of Michigan, where he created a new course called “Wildlands Appreciation
and Survival.” The course emphasized trends in wilderness use, skills for
wilderness travel, and the development of a wilderness ethic. Even in the early ’70s
as a 23-year old, Wes was paving the way for future wilderness stewards. He was
a true visionary.
NOLS Executive Director John Gans notes that “Wes carried forth his NOLS
education into his career and continued to serve us and wilderness throughout
his life. His passing is motivation to all of us to continue to work hard for
what Wes believed in. We are appreciative of Wes’ many gifts and of his
life well lived.”
In addition to his achievements as a steward of
public land, Wes was also an educator. He completed
a doctorate in resource and recreation planning
State University and taught a wilderness class at the University of Michigan.
He also taught many of us at NOLS when he renewed his relationship with the
school as a member of the inaugural Research
Advisory Board in 1990.
“I remember meeting Wes during NOLS’ first research colloquium,” says
NOLS’ Administration and Partnerships Director Molly Hampton. “As
a NOLS alumnus, instructor, and head of the wilderness program for the National
Park Service, Wes was invaluable to the formation and vision of our research
department. He was a leader for us, always providing excellent advice with a
thoughtful and caring approach.”
We will miss Wes. And we will miss knowing that his
watchful eye, thoughtful professionalism and passion
for wild lands on a global scale are leading the
way in wilderness management. We will think of Wes often and we will continue
to work – even harder as a result of his passing – both in and for