The names on the map are enough to spark wanderlust in a wilderness traveler: Oh-Be-Joyful, Blackbeard Island, River of No Return, Red Rock-Secret Mountain, Misty Fiords. They are America’s wildest places and are protected as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System which was the subject of study this week in our English class.
After studying the creation of the 1964 Wilderness Act and even recreating its writing and signing in a combined English and History class, students each choose one of the 774 units currently protected as wilderness and research the area, taking a trip in their imagination to their wild place, and sending back a “Postcard” of their travels. The assignment requires research – students must discover where the area is located, its size, when it was designated, and what president signed it into protection. It requires imagination – students write creatively as if they were actually hiking, climbing, paddling, or skiing in their chosen area. And, it requires artwork as students draw or choose a photograph to adorn the front of their wilderness postcard.
Then, the class circles around an imaginary campfire and reads each postcard aloud, sharing imaginary and real stories of some of the wildest, most beautiful places left in our nation and honoring those people like Aldo Leopold, Margaret Murie, Sigurd Olson, Howard Zahniser, and others who used their voices to stand up for the protection of wilderness and creation of the National Wilderness Preservation System. “I am glad I shall never be young,” wrote Aldo Leopold, “without wild places to be young in.” Because of the National Wilderness Preservation System, the students of CS18 will have wild places to grow in, to explore, and to enjoy as well.