“Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.” ~ Teddy Roosevelt
From a bright young age, I’ve been blessed to have spent ample, heartfelt and immensely soul-stirring time exploring the extraordinary Rocky Mountains.
When we were children, my family, a couple other families and some friends would go camping to places like Meadow Lake and City of the Rocks, or Palisades reservoir (Caribou-Targhee National Forest) and Lake Powell (Glen Canyon National Forest area).
In the winter, I’d go snowboarding up in the Tetons at Grand Targhee resort in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.
Each fall, my father would take us out to places like the Salmon-Challis National Forest and one of my most beloved areas, Island Park, within the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, near West Yellowstone National Park where we’d camp and explore the many mountain ranges along the Continental Divide between Idaho and Montana.
Time in nature, I believe now as an adult, is what kept me largely out of trouble, away from medications and connected to the essence of all that is. Although my father was only doing what he knew and loved, as a way of passing on tradition and remaining connected himself (in his own ways), it was a blessing in disguise because I’ve never turned away from nature since.
To this day, I’ve spent ample time afield in places like the Rattlesnake National Recreation area and Rattlesnake Wilderness, both within the Lolo National Forest area of Montana (just outside of Missoula, Montana).
Other magical areas of popular interest and awe inspiring beauty that we’ve visited often since we were young, are places like Stanley, Idaho (pictured above) near the breathtaking Sawtooth Range (within the Sawtooth National Forest), where we went camping nearly every summer growing up.
Lastly, the Middle Fork of the Salmon River—over a 100 mile stretch of pristine waters, snaking its way throughout the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness (pictured below) of which I’ve had the pleasure of white water rafting on three occasions, each lasting five to six days in length.
I realize I could go on and on about the many places, waterways and parks I’ve ventured to, since childhood and onward throughout adulthood but I think you’re getting the point about how I feel regarding these pristine and intensely thought-provoking areas. This, God’s country, was all set aside over 100 years ago, through federal protection acts—preserved for public use while conserving our natural habitat and ensuring the survival of our precious wildlife, waterways and forest diversity.
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” ~ John Muir
These public lands that so many of us might simply take for granted today may not exist to us now, had the efforts of a few conservation-minded individuals like Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir not recognized the burgeoning economic pursuit of resource depletion dating back to well over a century ago at this point.
As a means of preserving these forests, waterways and the wildlife which have historically occupied them, Roosevelt created the United States Forest Service (110 years ago), an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Today, it administers 154 National Forests and 20 National Grasslands, encompassing 193 million acres throughout North America.
Without the foresight, voice, lessons and precedence that men like Roosevelt, Muir and Aldo Leopold possessed, these intact wild lands, forests and waterways may not have stood a chance to the commercial industries that sought profits over planet while disregarding the environmental and humanitarian principles relating to the conservation of resources.
“Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.” ~ Aldo Leopold
This year, August 25th, 2016 officially marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, celebrating the stewardship of America’s National Parks across the nation.
In my life alone, I’ve witnessed the devastating effects that human encroachment has upon our native lands. Had people not stood up to corporate interests sooner, we may not have these vital areas of natural beauty to recreate and connect with on that deeply abiding, soul level.
Not too many years ago, my uncle put our own Ulschmid family farm into a 99 year trust to ensure that the lands our elders—my great grandparents (who emigrated from Austria in the 1890s)—settled and cultivated for farming and agriculture will now remain undisturbed for future generations, avoiding land development and urban sprawl for just one more century and hopefully longer.
On this small, yet expansive tract of lands within the heart of Minnesota, timber wolves roam free, whitetail deer flourish and a bounty of other wildlife, including multiple species of birds (waterfowl, birds of prey and grouse amongst many more) thrive. A plethora of forest diversity occupies this miniature wildland preserve, surrounded by a multitude of agricultural grounds and surviving farmsteads around rural, Becker County, MN.
Over the past few decades, my uncle and cousin (his son) have planted thousands of trees and turned the open fields into CRP so that it might remain pristine for the benefit of all life, not just our own. It cannot be understated, the importance of forward-thinking mentalities that consider nature first and the flawed constitution of economics, second.
We are a post-modern, developed nation and have the means of cultivating resources in far safer and more responsible ways than we have in the past. It’s important to me, that these lands remain untouched, yet managed and overseen by humankind, with exception to visitation (tread lightly), awe and wonder for the splendor that exists beyond dense, sterile and stagnate population centers.
Let our eyes behold the beauty that exists within the framework of nature, for it can teach us how to preserve our own humanity.
I dearly hope that we can ensure another century of conservation minded approaches while maintaining these pristine places, to ensure that preservation comes first while we continue learning how to navigate this global economy as stewards, not prospectors.
I’ve done a small part myself along the way by coordinating efforts with various agencies like the Idaho Department of Fish & Game, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the City of Missoula (Montana), volunteering my time and energy to helping plant thousands of trees, assist with grizzly bear research, elk and deer studies and municipal wastewater management (73,000 hybrid poplars planted over the course of two full weeks).
I’d rather live and die in nature, than to lose my own humanity serving a world gone mad—where the connection to our Earth heritage has been vanquished. Here’s to the next visit to one of our incredible parks, monuments or reserves, a waterway or grassland—insightfully preserved for our viewing pleasure.
Please enjoy, but always remember where our place is within this majestic planet’s ecosystem. We’re meant to work together with an intact nature and all of its elements. To take, is to give back—one way or another. We shall reap what we’ve sown, so I pray it’s through diversity and attunement that the ever-changing climate of humanity treads.
“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi