Wilderness with horses, not wheelchairs

  I agree with Erik Schultz that life can change dramatically in the blink of an eye (HCN, 12/12/05: Wheelchairs and wilderness can coexist). I am sorry that Erik was injured and is now confined to a wheelchair.

But wilderness is, by definition, primitive, not meant to be easily accessed, and is a place where we take risks. Erik’s idea to allow wheelchairs in wilderness is compelling, but not reasonable, in my opinion.

Considering how life (and management and law) can change in the blink of an eye, how do we feel about the current "mountain bikes in wilderness" discussion, where cyclists are lobbying for access? And sport climbing with bolts in wilderness? Or the growing sport of geocaching, where we’re placing permanent caches, often in the wrong places?

This past summer, we came around a precipitous corner in the backcountry of a Colorado wilderness area to confront two people carrying small, fluorescent-colored kayaks. They were running uphill with the kayaks over their heads to bag the waters of the river below. I was impressed that the kayakers were running uphill with their loads, but also thinking about whether or not fluorescent green or pink equipment belongs in wilderness.

With our population ballooning, some wilderness managers are now using the term "urban wilderness." They are trying to deal with the hundreds and thousands of people and types of uses (and impacts) we’re seeing in our wilderness areas. They are seeking new management methods that will preserve wilderness for future generations, but it’s going to be tough, because everyone wants something from these jewels.

I don’t think we need to open more access to wilderness, no matter how compelling the reason. Each year, many people who are confined to wheelchairs enter the far reaches of wilderness on horseback. I’m glad this opportunity exists for Erik and others.

John Nelson
Flagstaff, Arizona

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