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Luci Baines Johnson, daughter of Lady Bird and President Lyndon Baines Johnson, served as keynote speaker during a celebration event to mark the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, signed into law by her father in 1964. Nearly 350 people gathered Friday evening, August 1, at Jackson Lake Lodge—with a scenic backdrop of the Teton peaks rising above Jackson Lake—to enjoy live music, light refreshments, and the company of friends, neighbors and park visitors in commemoration of the landmark legislation that established America's vast wilderness system. An inspiring, informative, and spirited program paid homage to the Wilderness Act of 1964 that protected 9.1 million acres of pristine, wild lands for future generations and established a conservation legacy that continues to enrich people's lives in this 21st century.
Grand Teton National Park, with generous support from Grand Teton Association (the park's partner of 77 years) organized and hosted the recognition event in part to highlight the influence that the Teton landscape played in the genesis of both the Wilderness Society and the Wilderness Act of 1964. Visionary conservationists Olaus and Mardy Murie, Adolph and Louise Murie, Howard Zahniser, and other preservation-minded leaders gathered often at the Murie Ranch in Grand Teton National Park during the 1950s and 60s to discuss the value of wild lands and develop a strategy for their long-term protection. The Muries opened their home—located in the shadows of the majestic Tetons—to these conservation leaders and they facilitated thoughtful conversations that led to the passage of the Wilderness Act, principally written by Howard Zahniser. The Muries advanced the lofty ideals of wilderness preservation and their ranch essentially became the western headquarters for the Wilderness Society;furthermore, Olaus served as the first president. Other critical legislation resulted from those important meetings, including the 1977 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act—the greatest preservation act in U.S. history. That act created new national parks and expanded the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.For additional information about the Murie family and their historic ranch in Grand Teton National Park, go to http://www.muriecenter.org/.
Grand Teton National Park Superintendent David Vela began the evening program with a hearty welcome and brief recount of how he came to meet and become acquainted with the famous Johnson family while working as a 21-year-old cooperative education student employed by the National Park Service at the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park—better known as the "Texas White House." Years later, Vela served as superintendent at the LBJ Historical Park, where he became close friends with Lady Bird, and her daughters Lynda and Luci, along with other family members. Through an eye-catching collection of images, Vickie Mates, the park's chief of interpretation, provided historical context for the Wilderness Act, as well as the significance of the Murie family and their ranch. She explained how wilderness values play a critical role in people's lives today. Mates also described how just this summer, the wild landscape of Grand Teton National Park has helped wounded warriors find renewed strength by climbing the Grand Teton despite their disabilities, given hope and health to young cancer survivors through a program called The Children's Grand Adventure, provided healing to service men and women along with their children through a National Military Families Association outdoor program, and inspired artists who came to 'plein air' paint the mountains and park wildlife for two weeks in July. Mates also challenged the audience to think about why wilderness is personally important to them. She concluded with an inspiring video produced by the NPS. To view this 3-minute video, go to https://wilderness.nps.gov/features/wildernessact/popup.html.
Luci Johnson delighted the audience with lively stories about her dear mother, Lady Bird, and her life as the daughter of a larger-than-life U.S. President whose impassioned vision and mission was in his words "to build a great society, a place where the meaning of man's life matches the marvels of man's labor." In trying to improve the lives of everyday Americans, President Johnson presided over the passage of the Civil Rights Act and voter rights legislation, the Economic Opportunity Act and anti-poverty legislation, the creation of Job Corps and VISTA, the 1965 Medicare amendment to the Social Security Act and Medicaid, urban renewal and crime prevention, the Highway Beautification Act and the enduring legacy of the Wilderness Act of 1964.
Luci received a standing ovation as she concluded her remarks and challenged the audience to carry on the great programs and work of previous conservationists like the Muries and Stewart Udall, who served as Secretary of the Interior under her father. Luci told those assembled to "revel in the wonder of nature's grand symphony." She asked, "When another generation gathers to celebrate the Centennial of this great Act, will we be seen as the environment's heroes?" She went on to say, "The opposite of love is not hate . . . and the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference. The wilderness—the beauty of our environment—is counting on each of us to escape the shackles of indifference." Her final comment was an appeal to act on behalf of wild lands and wild creatures and to heed "the rallying song of the 60s by the Beatles and 'come together, right now!'"