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Summer 2004 Issue
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Welcoming Rains to the West
NOLS Executive Director John Gans celebrates the water churning in the rapids of Patagonia’s Rio Simpson.
© David Allen

I spent last night on the Wind River Indian Reservation, at the edge of Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains, attending the Shoshone Powwow. The Winds were heavily blanketed with clouds and rain was threatening. This traditional end of June powwow is usually conducted under Wyoming’s consistently sunny summer skies, but this year it was a constant battle for the dancers to keep their colorful regalia free of mud and rain. To avoid Saturday’s rain, hail, wind and lightning, the dancers moved indoors — hardly the place for a summer powwow in Wyoming.

After six years of drought in the West, this year’s June rains are a welcome blessing. The rain is sustenance to the mountain meadows, alpine wildflowers and trout streams of the Winds. None-the-less, as the Shoshone dancers gazed skyward, debating a move indoors, I was well aware that the NOLS students in the Winds were not able to make a similar choice. But the mountain conditions those NOLS students were cursing would be celebrated when they looked back at the end of their course.

The cover story in this Leader is about a different kind of water adventure. Written by NOLS graduate and former instructor Annie Aggens, it is the story of her canoe expedition down the Mississippi River. While the Mississippi is certainly a different twist on a wilderness expedition, I am sure you will enjoy the read. I grew up not far from Lake Itasca, the source of the Mississippi, in Minnesota. Rock hopping across the river near its source remains a childhood memory firmly planted in my brain. While growing up, we dreamed of expeditions down the river and many friends eventually turned those dreams into reality. Today in Wyoming, my children have an alternate view of Minnesota’s claim. When they consider distance, watershed and our recent June rains, they are convinced their backyard is the source of the Mississippi — there were just a few naming problems with the Missouri, Big Horn and Wind River. Lewis and Clark 200 years ago may have agreed with much of this analysis.

This Leader also continues our coverage of the 40th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act. It includes a profile of the Gila Wilderness, a NOLS classroom and one of the first designated wilderness areas. It also covers present day challenges to wilderness and specifically a piece on the Owyhee River area. Finally, our Trailblazer coverage in this issue is about “Champions for Wildlands.” I am pleased to recognize that we have hundreds of graduates who could have been featured in this column. Narrowing that list became quite a challenge. One of our featured champions is Dan Heilig, who will soon end over five years as the Executive Director of the Wyoming Outdoor Council. In 1980 I did my NOLS Instructors course in the Wind River Mountains with Dan. He was a strong and talented climber and outdoorsman. At the time, I never dreamed that Dan would become a lawyer and a CEO of a conservation organization, but it was obvious that he was passionate about wilderness and had exceptional leadership skills that got refined during his time at NOLS. He is like so many talented NOLS staff who go on to leadership positions with organizations that share our values. I wish him well in his coming endeavors and hope he finds time in the coming year to get out in the wilderness that he has worked so hard for.

Finally in this issue you will find a brief rundown of new NOLS courses for ’05. They provide perfect opportunities to return to NOLS and further refine your wilderness and leadership skills. Take a look, dream a bit and give a call to our admissions office. It would be great to have you back at NOLS.

I hope you have a wonderful summer and that you take time to celebrate the Wilderness Act by visiting a wilderness area near you.

-John Gans

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