Definition of Wilderness, White Mountains

Definition of Wilderness, Owls Head from the Franconia Ridge Trail (Appalachian Trail), near Little Haystack Mountain, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire during the last days of summer.
Owls Head – Pemigewasset Wilderness, New Hampshire
 

Definition of Wilderness, White Mountains – I am currently working on a project that has brought me back into the Pemigewasset Wilderness. This wilderness is governed under the National Wilderness Preservation System and the Wilderness Act of 1964. And because it is designated wilderness, it has the highest level of protection for federal lands. The recreational opportunities, historical value, and educational platform the Pemigewasset Wilderness offers will educate outdoor enthusiasts for many years to come. It is important that visitors to the region know that the six designated wilderness areas in the White Mountain National Forest are managed differently than the rest of the National Forest. This is where the Wilderness Act comes into play.

The Wilderness Act is a lot to take in, and the definition of wilderness can be overwhelming. But understanding the definition is the first step in understanding the benefits of wilderness preservation. Below is the complete definition of wilderness per the Wilderness Act of 1964. And below that, I broke down sections of the definition that include a simplified interpretation of the meaning.

Definition of Wilderness per section 2(c) of the Wilderness Act of 1964

"A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value."

Definition of Wilderness, Zeacliff Pond Brook in Lincoln, New Hampshire during the spring months.
Zeacliff Pond Brook – Pemigewasset Wilderness, New Hampshire
 

Definition of wilderness, Section 2(c) states “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

This section of the Act is often misread. “Untrammeled” defined as “free and unconstrained” is often confused for “untrampled” defined as “not stepped on”. These words have very different meanings. And for those who read it as “untrampled”, the definition of wilderness could be interpreted as humans are not welcomed in designated wilderness areas. But when read properly, it reads wilderness areas should be allowed to flourish without any constraints and be free of human influence.

Definition of Wilderness, Log bridge at the Notch Brook crossing along the Nancy Pond Trail in the Pemigewasset Wilderness of the New Hampshire White Mountains.
Nancy Pond Trail – Pemigewasset Wilderness, New Hampshire
 

Definition of wilderness, Section 2(c) goes on to state “An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable;”

This section of the Act means designated wilderness areas have to be managed in a way that it preserves the natural character of the wilderness. Trail work is minimal, trail blazing is non-existent, and man made structures are not allowed within wilderness areas. And it should be pointed out that trail work has to be done with hand tools and non-motorized equipment. Don’t let social media misinform you here, trail work is done in the Pemigewasset Wilderness, but it is minimal and done so it looks natural. When it comes to preserving the wilderness character of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, New England hikers debate this section most. The words “permanent improvements” are always a hot topic.

Zealand Notch  - A hiker takes in the view of the Pemigewasset Wilderness from the summit of Zeacliff during the summer months. Located along the Appalachian Trail in the White Mountains, New Hampshire.
Pemigewasset Wilderness from Zeacliff, New Hampshire
 

Definition of wilderness, Section 2(c) states “(2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation;”

The solitude reference is easy to understand. And if you have ever visited Bondcliff, Henry’s Ledge, Hellgate Ravine, Redrock Ravine, Stillwater Junction, Thirteen Falls, or West Bond at sunset more than likely you understand the solitude of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Primitive and unconfined recreation means travel is done by non-motorized and non-mechanical means (no bicycles allowed). The wilderness traveler has to rely on personal skills, which encourages self-discovery and the disconnect from social obligations.

Storm (rain) clouds engulf Owls Head Mountain from the summit of Bondlcliff Mountain in the Pemigewasset Wilderness of New Hampshire during the summer months. Hellgate Ravine is in the foreground.
Stormy Weather – Bondcliff, Pemigewasset Wilderness
 

Definition of wilderness, Section 2(c) states “(3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and”

At 45,000-acres the Pemigewasset Wilderness is the largest of the six designated wilderness area in the White Mountain National Forest. It is a large tract of land, and unfortunately, it scares some outdoor enthusiasts. When a hiker enters into a designated wilderness area, they take on certain risks that come with wilderenss travel. Using a compass, dealing with storms, fording rivers, navigating unblazed trails, and map reading are part of the wilderness experience.

The historic timber trestle 16, which crosses Black Brook, along the abandoned East Branch & Lincoln Railroad (1893-1948) in the Pemigewasset Wilderness of Lincoln, New Hampshire.
Trestle 16 – Pemigewasset Wilderness, New Hampshire
 

Definition of wilderness, Section 2(c) states “(4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.”

The Pemigewasset Wilderness contains all of the above characteristics, but the historical value could be the most important. From 1893-1948, this wilderness was East Branch & Lincoln Railroad territory. And the history surrounding this railroad educates young and old on the importance of land conservation. The most significant artifact from the White Mountains logging era remains in the wilderness today, Trestle No. 16 (above). The historical value of this one-hundred-year-old trestle is often overlooked and taken for granted.

A hiker sitting on the summit of Bondcliff in the Pemigewasset Wilderness of New Hampshire during the summer months. West Bond is on the other side of Hellgate Ravine.
Bondcliff – Pemigewasset Wilderness, New Hampshire
 

Why should New England outdoor enthusiasts care about wilderness preservation? One of the grandest views in New Hampshire is from Bondcliff (above) in the Pemigewasset Wilderness. And visitors to Bondcliff rave about how awesome it is. Bondcliff remains in a natural, undeveloped, state because of the Wilderness Act.

But wilderness areas are not safe, and attempts to alter the Wilderness Act are ongoing. At the moment there is a bill in the U.S House of Representatives that would amend the Wilderness Act to allow the use of bikes in wilderness areas. It is unclear how this would impact the wilderness areas here in New Hampshire.

The Wilderness Act has protected over 109 million acres across the United States, and it is a conservation success story that continues to be written. But once the Wilderness Act is altered, in any way, it will be the end of wilderness preservation as we know it today. And that serenity you have on Bondcliff will be gone.

Happy image making..


 

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Erin Paul is a professional photographer who specializes mainly in the environment of New Hampshire. His work is published worldwide, and publication credits include the Appalachian Mountain Club, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Backpacker Magazine, and The Wilderness Society. His blog articles are intended to create awareness for the environment and to promote his image archive.

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