Why Wilderness Matters


So what is wilderness?  I certainly didn’t know when Nancy and I arrived in Ely from New England in 1975.   There is wilderness in the northeast but it’s small and generally in the big mountains.  What we found in Ely was the Boundary Waters and Quetico Park.  It was a wonderland that we had no idea existed; a land set aside by progressive minded people over decades and taking years of hard work to secure.  We didn’t know all that at age 23.  We just knew we could take our old Grumman canoe and escape the modern world and find the peace and serenity of a place close to Ely and not far from that which the earliest white settlers encountered.  On our first trip that summer we found Hegman L. just off the Echo Trail and had the lake to ourselves for two nights.   Wilderness was discovery of state of mind that we hadn’t ever experienced.  It’s hard work to discover at first but the rewards are so awesome.  It’s a state of mind that infects people and draws them back.  You feel connected to the earth as no other place and time is all about now.  That’s really what wilderness means to me now.  The discovery of a place to live in the present aware of all the senses can absorb; a fish on the end of the line, a sunset with loons calling, the taste of blueberries picked on a portage once burned over by wildfire.   It’s a state of mind that needs to be awakened every summer at least a couple times.   A summer without wilderness, without the Boundary Waters is unthinkable for us now.   I hope you find what wilderness means to you too.  Please come.  

Designated wilderness protects ecological values vital to all of us:

  • Wilderness areas protect watersheds that provide drinking water to many cities and rural communities.
  • Wilderness serves as critical habitat for wildlife threatened by extinction.
  • Wilderness helps filter and improve the quality of our air.
  • Wilderness areas maintain gene pools that help to protect biodiversity -- the "web of life," and provide natural laboratories for research.
  • Wilderness helps meet the nation's increasing demand for outdoor recreation: hiking, hunting, fishing, bird watching, canoeing, camping, and many other activities.
  • Wilderness is a haven from the pressures of our fast-paced, industrialized society, providing places where we can seek relief from the noise, haste, and crowds that too often confine us.

"Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed"

~ Excerpt from The Wilderness Letter, Wallace Stegner, author and former Wilderness Society Governing Council member


Wilderness offers people solitude, inspiration, natural quiet, a place to get away. At the same time, designated wilderness protects biodiversity, the web of life.

Of 261 basic ecosystem types in the U.S., 157 are represented in the wilderness system. Without these large, complex areas of preserved landscape, species protection would be virtually impossible and our understanding of how natural systems work would be reduced to childish speculation.

To discover more about the legal definitions of Wilderness and do your part in Wilderness Preservation please take some time to return to this page and follow some internet portages to the Wilderness Society:

The National Wilderness Preservation System was created on September 3, 1964, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed The Wilderness Act -- eight years after the first wilderness bill was introduced by Senator Hubert H. Humphrey. The final bill passed the Senate, 73-12, on April 9, 1963, and the House of Representatives, 373-1, on July 30, 1964.

The original bill established 9.1 million acres of federally protected wilderness in national forests. The law did not increase the amount of land under federal control, nor did it mandate acquisition of additional lands.

Read the Wilderness Act Join The Wilderness Society  Visit Sustainable Ely

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Ely, Minnesota 55731

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