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Contact: David Elkowitz, 432-477-1108
A variety of Big Bend National Park activities will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act during the remainder of 2014.
President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act on September 3, 1964. Since then, over 750 wilderness areas have been established on public lands in 44 states. The act was passed by the 88th Congress in response to concerns that wild and undeveloped natural landscapes were being lost at an alarming rate, including those on public lands.
Johnson described a purpose of the Act at the signing ceremony: "If future generations are to remember us with gratitude... We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it."
Much of Big Bend National Park is managed as wilderness despite the fact that Big Bend Wilderness has not yet been formally designated by Congress.
The 1964 legislation required the National Park Service and other agencies to evaluate their lands, and submit wilderness proposals to Congress for lands that meet the requirements. In 1978, 538,000 acres of the now-800,000-acre Big Bend National Park were included in a Big Bend Wilderness proposal to Congress.
Paved and unpaved public roads, and developments such as the Chisos Basin, Rio Grande Village, and Castolon were not included in the proposal because they are essential to providing public access to the hiking, camping, photography, climbing, bird watching and many other wilderness-dependent activities that Big Bend visitors enjoy.
Although the Big Bend Wilderness bill has not yet received Congressional action, the Wilderness Act and National Park Service policies require proposed lands be preserved in wilderness condition until Congress takes action.
According to Superintendent Cindy Ott-Jones, "Most of the 300,000 people who visit Big Bend each year don't realize the Wilderness Act is a significant reason the park's vast and inspiring scenery remains intact, and provides such an unblemished natural setting for appropriate recreation."
On September 3, a poster exhibit will be installed at the Panther Junction Visitor Center bookstore, remaining through 2014. The exhibit will include commemorative Big Bend Wilderness sales items and a new commemorative National Park Passport stamp.
Activities occurring during coming months include:
- Regularly scheduled park interpretive events and short film presentations on the history and values of Wilderness.
- Volunteer work groups supervised by park staff will perform service projects such as grassland and riparian restoration, and removal of abandoned power lines and fences.
- Upon advance request, park staff will provide short wilderness education sessions to student groups and other organizations visiting the park.
- A traveling park spokesperson is available to make Big Bend Wilderness presentations to area community and civic organizations.
Activities will culminate with a Wilderness Traditional Skills Day exhibition during Thanksgiving week. On November 25, park staff will demonstrate wilderness management activities such as dry-stone masonry trail construction, mule packing, cross-cut sawing, horse patrol, canoeing, wilderness rescue, and Leave-no-Trace camping. The event will be staged near the Rio Grande Village store from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.