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27 September 2023

National Public Lands Day, Wilderness Hike


Written by: Zane Hesting


National Public Lands Day took place on September 23. For this event I was able to guide a five-mile wilderness hike for members of the community. A group of six people arrived, which is about the normal amount of people who participate in day hikes in our area of Nebraska. I wrote a brief tour outline I studied in the days before the event. I always appreciate how community outreach events inspire me to stay up to date on various land and water topics across the country, education is a lifelong process.

Our hike consisted of four or five stops within Soldier Creek Wilderness where I was able to educate the public on the history and current state of wilderness areas. One of my main points of emphasis was how lucky we are to have a wilderness area in this region of the Great Plains. There are less than a dozen wilderness areas in the Great Plains, and the Nebraska National Forest along with the Black Hills National Forest are the only two forests in the country entirely within the border of the Great Plains.

Wilderness areas were conceptualized in the southwest with the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico being the first of its kind. Since there have been 800 Wilderness areas created comprising over 100 million acres of land.   

Within the wording of the Wilderness Act of 1964 there are the questions of “untrammeled” versus “natural” which are important to dissect, but I think the more essential part of the wilderness idea is to not see them as places of escape and past longing but as places of arrival and creation. Wilderness areas are about connections with the land in a non-consumptive fashion and how to create and keep places which sustain our future. 

Our group was able to look at the large springs which feed the south fork of Soldier Creek, various arrowhead knapping locations, and places where wild grapes have grown abundantly this year. Each of these finds presented an opportunity to discuss hydrology, biology, and the environmental justice owed to Native Americans for the conceptualization of wilderness.

Our hike ended with a mostly silent return to the trailhead, which I think is the best way to return after a wander through a wilderness. The variety of work I have taken part in during my internship has been extremely fulfilling, and I continue to be grateful to Hispanic Access Foundation for allowing non-traditional college graduates like me to be a part of their program. We haven’t had our first freeze of the fall yet, but the days are getting shorter, and it won’t be long.    

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