Celebrating 50 Years of Oregon Wilderness

Hells Canyon wilderness. Photo by Trask Bedortha
Hells Canyon wilderness.by Trask Bedortha

From old-growth forests to dynamic desert landscapes, Oregon’s legacy of diverse ecosystems lives on through its protected wilderness areas. That’s exactly what Oregonians will celebrate Sept. 3 for the 50-year anniversary of the Wilderness Act, which protects around 2.5 million acres across 48 sites in Oregon and 110 million acres total nationwide. While observances will be happening all over the U.S., the weeklong celebration in Eugene will be classic Oregon fare: talks, hikes and beer.

Wilderness areas “provide Americans with their natural heritage that we all associate with wild open spaces and beautiful landscapes,” says Chandra LeGue of Oregon Wild. “That’s something that’s always been a part of the American psyche.”

Designated wilderness areas allow hunting, fishing, hiking and other recreational activities but differ from national parks and state forests in that they aren’t developed. Generally there are no roads, bathrooms or buildings.

This makes for ideal habitat for endangered species like salmon and marbled murrelet, as well as for undisturbed forests and prairies. It also ensures clean drinking water such as Eugene’s water source, the McKenzie River. According to Oregon Wild, protected wilderness areas cover a quarter of the meandering McKenzie.

The Omnibus Public Land Management Act, signed by President Obama in 2009, added thousands of acres to existing wilderness areas. Most recently, groups like Oregon Wild, Oregon Natural Desert Association and the Sierra Club’s local Many Rivers Group have worked towards getting Congress to add Devil’s Staircase Wilderness, Wild Rogue Wilderness and Crater Lake Wilderness to Oregon’s protected areas.

LeGue says that the 50th anniversary of the act is the perfect opportunity for people to learn more about the individual importance of these proposed wilderness areas, and to appreciate the ones we already have.

The Obsidians, a local group of outdoor enthusiasts, will lead hikes through the Mount Jefferson, Three Sisters and Waldo Lake wildernesses and more throughout the week of Aug. 30. The week will also include an Oregon Wild film screening, guest speakers and a happy hour at Ninkasi hosted by conservation organizations.

To pre-register for the Obsidian hikes, go to obsidians.org. For more information on Wilderness Celebration activities, go to http://wkly.ws/1t1.