It was Autumn in New Mexico near the southern terminus of the Continental Divide Trail. I was finishing a thru-hike I had begun in at the Canadian border. Panning the great expanse a disturbing question suddenly came to my mind. What in the hell are you doing out here? You have got to be joking me, was I seriously going to have an existential crisis this close to the end of the trek. How was I offering anything to the greater world community of Plants and Critters and People and Rivers and Earth? I trekked on and decided I would revisit the question another time.
The Appalachian Trail in PA crosses over several mountains just a few miles from where I grew up. One hundred and fifty years ago many of those mountains were completely stripped of all their Forest. The timber was burned to create charcoal for the Iron Furnaces in the area. The mountains were subject to major erosion and stream degradation. Who is the guardian of this now flourishing eastern gem? You guessed right, the membership of several Trail Organizations.
Then there are the OB's (Original Backpackers) Anne LaBastille, John Muir and Henry David Thoreau. Ecologist, LaBastille was known for backpacking, writing, and photography. She wrote Women in the Wilderness and the Woodswoman series. John Muir lobbied Congress to protect the Sierra Nevada and present-day Yosemite National Park. While Thoreau explored the present-day Baxter State Park. He would later write his seminal works Walden and Ktaadn (Mt. Katahdin). These Original Backpackers' explorations and writings help shape the modern-day conservation moment.
Conservation is evolving to a more holistic model. What is good for the Earth is good for its People. Environmentalism does not inhibit human progress but rather fosters it. There is an ever-growing understanding that clean air and water not only allow us all to thrive but it is a human rights issue.
We Backpackers and all the other outdoor Recreators are leading the charge on protecting our wildlands. We are "re-creating" the great American tradition of Transcendentalism. Humanitarian advocacy is a form of environmental advocacy. Human rights we enjoy are not separate from the rights of Flora and Fauna. I believe there is a connection between how we treat the Earth and how we treat each other.