Wilderness Act of 1964 — Wilderness Day?


Today marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act. Wouldn’t it be fitting to celebrate wilderness as a national holiday today to honor its importance in our society? This fateful piece of legislation created a National Wilderness Preservation System, defining wilderness and protecting over 9 million acres of land from development, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). The Wilderness Act of 1964, signed by President Lyndon Johnson, has been called one of the nation’s greatest conservation achievements. Sigurd Olson worked diligently to help shepherd the legislation through the process. He urged Minnesota’s U.S. Senator Hubert Humphrey to support the effort, which faced years of intense battles and controversy. In the end, the landmark legislation passed the Senate 73-12 and the House 373-1. Times were clearly different then with compromise and the ability to work together actually achievable. Still, those vote totals demonstrate just how strong the support for wilderness became. Can you imagine anything passing the U.S. House today so overwhelmingly? Even if Wilderness Day is not a sanctioned federal holiday, I’m adding it to my calendar. As Sigurd said, “In saving any wilderness area, you are saving more than rocks and trees and mountains and lakes and rivers. What you are really saving is the human spirit. What you are really saving is the human soul.” September 3 seems like a perfect day to acknowledge the incredible impact of wilderness on our lives, whether it be spiritual, emotional, or physical.

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