The story below is an excerpt from our Jan./Feb. 2015 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, view our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
Steph Jeffries is a naturalist at heart and a forest ecologist by training. She and co-author Tom Wentworth (both at N.C. State) recently published “Exploring Southern Appalachian Forests: An Ecological Guide to 30 Great Hikes in the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia,” from UNC press.
“How do we know this is the right trail? Why aren’t there blazes?” my 10-year-old son Simon asked last August. We were grazing on plump blueberries on Grassy Cove Top in Shining Rock Wilderness.
“We have to use our map and compass to be sure. We’re in a wilderness, so there are no trail markers.”
“Why not? Won’t people get lost?”
“Maybe. People do get lost, if they aren’t careful. But human visitors don’t get special treatment in a wilderness. That’s what makes it special.”
Last September marked the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. Hiking in Shining Rock, I asked myself whether wilderness today is what we protected in 1964. Was Shining Rock “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain”?
Wilderness has not escaped the long reach of human influence. Despite that, we need wilderness today more than ever.
To be clear, we didn’t always set aside pristine landscapes, as the language of the act suggests. In the East, in particular, wilderness was more of a “come as you are” party. By the 1960s, most eastern forests had been logged once, if not twice. Wilderness was carved from undeveloped public land – found wilderness, but hardly pristine.