For much of America's history the concepts of frontier and wilderness were synonymous. Today, the American frontier exists only in history books and wilderness has been reduced to a political definition.
Wilderness-- its existence, location, and meaning-- is more alien to American's today than many foreign countries. This is a modern tragedy because, as Roderick Nash demonstrates in his seminal work, Wilderness & The American Mind, wilderness has been intertwined with out social fabric and the meaning of America since the country's founding.
Without exception American wilderness is a component of our public lands, land owned by and for all Americans, but to the vast majority of us the existence and concept of public lands has little to no meaning.
Looking into Wyoming Wilderness
With society and culture having evolved so dramatically over the course of the twentieth century with change accelerating in the twenty-first, the idea of public lands is non-existent to a vast swath of society. Not only is wilderness unknown to most Americans, it's more difficult to visit than many foreign countries, to boot. With your passport in hand you can travel across the globe; to depart into the American wilderness takes planning routes, meals, and gear, travel to the trailhead (perhaps in another state or across the country), and a belief in yourself that you can enter the backcountry, rely on your skills and equipment and then come out successfully on the other end of the journey.
Wilderness is a foundational connection to our American heritage. It holds for us a rarefied view of what America was before industrialization, before globalization, before the digital world existed; it is our best lens into the past--even better than books because you can live it! The American frontier has disappeared into the history books; we run the risk of losing the character of America's wilderness--and our connection to it--if those of us who have a tie to public lands do not defend it as a vital part of our national heritage.
Until next time,
Author- Wyoming Mountains & Home-waters: Family, Fly Fishing, and Conservation