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Carbondale author shares his favorite wild places in 'Atlas of Wild America'

 Jon Waterman has worked as a wilderness guide and National Park Service ranger and continues to explore remote places around the world by boat, foot, or dogsled.
Photo courtesy of Jon Waterman
Jon Waterman has worked as a wilderness guide and National Park Service ranger and continues to explore remote places around the world by boat, foot, or dogsled.

Jon Waterman has been exploring and advocating for wild spaces throughout the U.S. for several decades.

The former wilderness guide and National Park Service ranger writes about his favorite ones in his new book 'Atlas of Wild America' which has just been published through National Geographic.

Jon Waterman:  I want people to see it as a celebration of the wilderness and an inspiration, not only to get out there and explore, moreover, to take care of it.

And I think that by its nature, wilderness draws people who are conservationists and preservationists, who are inclined to take care of the place.

Although I put the seven principles of leave no trace in the opening pages of the book, I trust that people who are interested in wilderness will be taking care of it and will leave no trace.

So again, ultimately, I see it as a celebration of wilderness, of what we have that is so amazing.

Maeve Conran: When we talk about wilderness areas, people might just think this is just a grandiose way to describe open spaces.

And yet there are legal definitions and federal protections that go along with specific wilderness designations. What are those and what does it mean for a place legally to be designated as wilderness?

Jon Waterman: Well, most importantly, there can't be any mineral exploitation that goes on in wilderness areas, there are exceptions, places that were grandfathered in, for instance, with mining claims.

But on the whole, and particularly for the purposes of the book, the places that I chose have a minimum of that sort of thing going on.

There are no roads, or if there are roads, they're primitive roads only, no mechanical vehicles, no vehicles whatsoever, motorized use is (not) allowed in wilderness.

And, you know, by the language of the Wilderness Act, these are places that are untrammeled by man. So we are leaving them, and maintaining them in their pristine state.

I think it's interesting that even the trail maintenance in wilderness areas, by the terms of the Wilderness Act, whether it's managed by the Forest Service or the BLM or the Fish and Wildlife Service or the (National) Parks, they only do a certain amount of trail maintenance, and the trails can't be, made too wide.

They can't use helicopters or chainsaws, for instance, to do bridge work. They have to use natural materials and the surrounding timber to build a bridge if one is needed. In many instances, they take out bridges so that we may experience these places at their most pristine.

Another part of the language of the Wilderness Act is 'where man shall only be a visitor,' which is great.

And I think that for our purposes and the need to disconnect and then connect with wilderness, it's just fine.

We're drawn to the isolation of wilderness, but really wilderness before the colonial days, our continent was inhabited by as many as 60 million Indigenous peoples, so wilderness doesn't necessarily not have to have people.

And in Alaska, there's a great exception in the wilderness areas because there's a great deal of subsistence use in legislated wilderness areas.

So again, it's a slippery concept, wilderness. But there are some basic tenets of it, and those are some of them.

Maeve Conran: Somebody like yourself, John, you live in a beautiful part of the world in Carbondale and the Roaring Fork Valley on the Western Slope of Colorado.

Do you still experience awe when you go into these wild spaces? What happens to you on a personal level when you go into some of these areas that you've written about?

Jon Waterman: Well, that's a great question. Yes, and I do experience awe on a routine basis.

I routinely go into Bureau of Land Management land directly behind my house, and what happens to me, even though I'm disconnecting if you will, from my iPhone and the computer, I am reconnecting with the wilds.

And I believe that when I go into the wilderness, as happens to many people, that we engage our senses in a way that we don't have the opportunity to do in our busy worlds of careers and connection.

In fact, that we have the opportunity to develop our sixth sense and our intuition in a way that we can't in the rest of our lives.

And of course our legislators agreed, they created the Wilderness Act in 1964 for these very reasons, not just for the wildlife or the resource itself, but for us, for human beings as a spiritual connection place.

This story was shared via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico including KSJD.
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