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Know the West

Wyoming's unsung wilderness heroes

  Wyoming’s wilderness culture has its heroes, but unlike the cowboys who get so much play in the state, they are largely unknown. In Ahead of Their Time, a new book covering four decades of the Wyoming wilderness movement, editors Broughton Coburn and Leila Bruno try to remedy that by asking writers to choose a wilderness warrior, collect oral interviews, old photos, testimonies, diaries and more, and then write about him or her. The resulting essays make an unusual book, not only because they are about so many different people, but because they are penned by so many different writers.

The variety of writing styles and visions will please some readers and bother others, but if nothing else, it serves as a reminder that the battle to save wilderness is fought on many fronts, that anyone can fight for wilderness, and that ultimately, wilderness belongs to everyone. As Chris Madsen of the state’s Game and Fish Department rightly points out in the preface, preserving wilderness "is no more ‘elitist’ than preserving the Declaration of Independence or the battlefield at Gettysburg."

Some of the book’s subjects seem almost glamorous; their photos and stories suggest an endless parade of good friends and good times. But other accounts reveal that fighting the good fight can take a heavy toll. Todd Wilkinson writes about High Country News founder Tom Bell, who at one point sacrificed everything for the West and for wilderness: longtime friends, his beloved family ranch, good standing in his hometown. Met with indifference and outgunned by lobbyists, Bell despaired. He nearly surrendered. The fact that he didn’t is an inspiration to Wilkinson — and inspiring the next generation of wilderness heroes is really the point of the book.

Ahead of Their Time: Wyoming Voices for Wilderness
Edited by Broughton Coburn and Leila Bruno, 220 pages, softcover, $14.95: Wyoming Wilderness Association, 2004.