I recently led a hike into the Hoosier Ridge proposed wilderness area near Breckenridge. It was an amazing hike into a beautiful area with abundant wildflowers, sweeping vistas and enchanting forests. But that’s not what I want to write about. I want to write about the hike participant who only had one leg. John Evans was a very nice fellow from Wales. He was in Breckenridge on vacation, saw our hike announcement in the local newspaper and thought it would be a great excursion for his family. When I asked the group: “Does anyone have any health conditions I should be aware of?” Mr. Evans piped up and said, “I only have one leg.” I had not noticed until then, and honestly probably would not have. He wore a prosthetic and wore it well. I came to find out that his daughter had never been on a hike before and he had done very little hiking himself, but both were excited to try it. Hoosier Ridge did not disappoint. We all (there were 10 of us total in the group) hiked through the meadows and forests, chatting all the way. Mr. Evans borrowed a walking pole from another hiker and did just fine.
In contrast, if you read the rhetoric from folks who oppose wilderness, typically dirt bike and all-terrain vehicle (ATV) enthusiasts, they will say over and over that wilderness areas block access to people with disabilities, the elderly and veterans. Now go visit the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) or the American Legion websites and see what they think about wilderness. I’ll save you the trouble — it’s not on their radar. Nevertheless, the ATV and dirt bike message about access is one of the biggest arguments we encounter about wilderness.
So why aren’t the AARP, AAPD and American Legion complaining about wilderness? Probably because their memberships are much like the general population. Most Americans love wilderness and want more of it protected. And they realize the value of having wilderness even if they themselves can’t or don’t visit it via foot, wheelchair or horseback. Many years ago when I was working on protecting Browns Canyon I met with an older man who was in a wheel chair and had various tubes going in and out. This gentleman was a strong wilderness supporter even though he was pretty much confined to his home. He supported wilderness because it gave him peace knowing that there are wild places out there and he wanted his grandchildren to be able to know those places.
Google “veterans wilderness” or “disabled wilderness” and you can find plenty of organizations and groups that are using experiences in wilderness to help our fine service men and women re-enter civilian life and organizations that facilitate wilderness trips for persons with disabilities.
Wilderness does not prevent access; wilderness areas are open to all. And the idea of wilderness can inspire us for our entire lives even if we personally are unable to set foot there. So the next time you hear someone say “Wilderness blocks access for the . . . “ tell them “No, we ALL need wilderness to recover, inspire, challenge and quiet ourselves!”