Untrammeled! Celebrating 50 Years of American Wilderness

A podcast and radio series that celebrates American wilderness

Episode 1: Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness

3/6/2014 - download audio - subscribe
Running time 26:46 minutes, MP3 format (128 kbps), 44.1 kHz stereo, 19,602,257 bytes (19.6 MB).


Joy Caudill looking at a map she drew in her fight for wilderness

Joy Caudill at her kitchen table

Connie Harvey at her home near Aspen

Jamie and Kitty (the hikers)

Jamie and Kitty faraway

Forest Service rangers at Conundrum Hot Springs trailhead

Near the trailhead for Conundrum Hot Springs


DOUG SCOTT: It put ordinary people in charge of these decisions in a way that resulted in a much larger wilderness system today... It's 109 and a half million acres today. That's nearly five percent of the entire land mass of the United States.

CONNIE HARVEY: It's just a deep feeling that this is a wonderful place. It's awe-inspiring, really because it's so beautiful. So, if you have a chance to do something to preserve it, it becomes important and motivating and then you don't begrudge putting in some time and doing what it takes.

STEVE SERGEANT: Welcome to "Untrammeled."

[Intro theme in and under.]

STEVE SERGEANT: I'm your Host, Steve Sergeant.

STEVE SERGEANT: What comes to mind when you imagine the American Wilderness? A calm retreat away from the stress of modern existence? An extreme environment pitting man against nature? [beat] What may not come to mind is this: a precious resource protected by a complex system of laws -- the result of decades of work by dedicated, regular Americans inspired to preserve the natural places around them.

DOUG SCOTT: This isn't a bunch of folks in Washington -- unelected folks sitting around with maps -- deciding what to do. This is much more about a bunch of people sitting around in someone's kitchen table, ...unrolling maps and saying, you know, "Have you been up this trail? Where do you think the boundary ought to be?"

STEVE SERGEANT: In this episode of "Untrammeled," author and historian Doug Scott talks to us about the origins of the ongoing movement to protect America's wilderness.

DOUG SCOTT: On average, the wilderness proposals that Congress is taking up these days, have come from those kitchen tables, not from an agency recommendation.

STEVE SERGEANT: And producer Marci Krivonen takes us to one of the first wilderness areas protected by the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness in central Colorado.

[Theme up, resolves, and hard-ends.]

STEVE SERGEANT: The United States of America was known in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as a vast untamed wilderness, rich with resources. Anyone industrious enough, and daring enough, could claim some land and make their fortune. The opportunities on the American frontier seemed endless.

STEVE SERGEANT: But by the late eighteen hundreds, many in the Unites States government were realizing that the American frontier wasn't endless.

DOUG SCOTT: Our nation is blessed with having a huge expanse of publicly owned... land. ...And this was originally just going to be given away to homesteaders and to others.

STEVE SERGEANT: Doug Scott is the author of The Enduring Wilderness, Protecting our Natural Heritage Through the Wilderness Act.

DOUG SCOTT: National parks began being established in 1872 with Yellowstone -- and a very popular idea.‚The issue with the parks, as far as wilderness advocates were concerned, was that within the parks the wilderness was being reduced every time somebody came up with an idea for a new development -- usually the Park Service itself.

DOUG SCOTT: But in the early years of the twentieth century, the Forest Service was established... National forests were established out of some of this land. The Wilderness Act was built on a whole structure of experiences and policies particularly by the U.S. Forest Service, which began back in 1924 when a young ...Forest Service official in Albuquerque, ...named Aldo Leopold ...convinced his bosses to approve the establishment of the world's first wilderness area -- this was nearly a million acres large in... western New Mexico -- the Gila Wilderness.‚And when I say a real wilderness, I mean an actual area of federal land with ...a precise boundary on a map, and a policy saying we're going to preserve this.

STEVE SERGEANT: But this first wilderness protection was precarious. Because what one bureaucrat could order, another could change.

DOUG SCOTT: So suddenly they would say "oh we want access to those trees to log them," and in a stroke of a pen, that wilderness boundary could be altered to cut out that area...

DOUG SCOTT: In 1947 the leaders of the Wilderness Society, at their annual meeting, concluded that they would have to go for a wilderness preservation law. And they turned to this man, Howard Zahniser, who was just two years into his job as the executive director of the organization and said you figure out how to do this. ..and he brought this scholarly sense of the choice of words to the precision that he took in the drafting of the Wilderness Act...

STEVE (to Doug): But, it took, it sounds like just shy of 20 years of work to get it through...

DOUG SCOTT: There was clearly a big change, and it had quite a number of strands. or one thing, After World War II, Americans took to the highways to get out and see the federal lands, to go to Yosemite, to make a tour of the western parks and wilderness areas... This was just an enormous attraction that was a kind of civic pride -- a kind of nationalism at work here...So this was the cultural milieu in which the very idea of a wilderness law emerged. And it was that series of cultural ideas that provided the political force to counter the intense opposition that the wilderness law encountered when it was introduced in 1956. ‚...And finally the thing that really made the difference was in 1961 when John Kennedy came to the White House, having endorsed the Wilderness Act as part of his campaign. And that had the effect of stopping the opposition of the Forest Service leadership and the Park Service leadership, and whether they liked it or not, they had to fall in line...the handwriting was on the wall that this law was going to be passed.

STEVE SERGEANT: President Kennedy didn't live to see the passage of the Wilderness Act, but in nineteen sixty four, president Lyndon Johnson signed it into law.

STEVE SERGEANT: The Wilderness Act instantly protected nine million acres of wild lands.

DOUG SCOTT: It put ordinary people in charge of these decisions in a way that resulted in a much larger wilderness system today, and I'll promise you it's going to get a lot larger. It's 109 and a half million acres today. That's nearly five percent of the entire land mass of the United States. This is very popular work because people love these wild lands, and that's not something that's going to change. We don't have to lie awake at night worrying that somehow Americans are going to give up their love affair with the wildlife and wild lands that are their natural heritage.

STEVE SERGEANT: And now, exactly fifty years after the passage of the Wilderness Act, we can see evidence of that love-affair in each of these wild places across the country.

[Transition theme variation "theme 2a.aiff".]

STEVE SERGEANT: One such place is suffering from almost too much adoration; Colorado's evocatively named "Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness" – famous for its craggy mountain peaks. They rise above chilly alpine lakes and lush meadows. The two 14-thousand foot peaks are nicknamed "The Bells" -- and they're arguably the most photographed mountains in the state.

STEVE SERGEANT: You can see moose, bighorn sheep and elk, roaming the long glacial valleys. The mountains are made of crumbling rock, and the fourteen thousand foot Maroon Peaks are called the Deadly Bells, because of their merciless mountaineering history. In season, you'll see wildflowers stretching across expansive meadows initially carved by avalanches and wildfire.

STEVE SERGEANT: Thousands of out-of-town visitors enjoy the area's beauty every summer, along with residents from local towns like Aspen. Producer Marci Krivonen decided to accompany two such "locals," who spend their free time hiking the stunning wilds.

MARCI KRIVONEN: I find Jamie Harrison and Kitty Winograd (WIN-ah-grad) bright and early - at 6:45 in the morning - at the East Maroon trailhead.

[Opening ambiance - river rushing.]

MARCI KRIVONEN: The trailhead is next to a cold rushing stream…the smooth, clear water moves over rocks colored red, yellow and brown. Shrubs like willows, alder and river birch dot the riverbank. The sun's up but it's hidden by thick clouds.

MARCI KRIVONEN: It's essentially just a day hike, right?

JAMIE HARRISON: It's a day hike there but, it's an all day hike. And then a day hike back. I mean, it's fourteen miles.

MARCI KRIVONEN: That's how long it is? Wow.

MARCI KRIVONEN: The lengthy day hike will take us over a high mountain pass, across stream-crossings and through lush meadows. The trail draws crowds on the weekends, so we've chosen to hike on a Tuesday...a potentially rainy Tuesday. The sky is ominous.

MARCI KRIVONEN: Are you nervous? Excited? How are you feeling this morning?

JAMIE HARRISON: I wasn't nervous until the weather came in. Up until this point, I felt very prepared. We've done hikes. I've done backpacking trips in Alaska, Hawaii and Wyoming. This is just a day hike to a hostel, so I wasn't that concerned. But, with the weather, we had to get rain pants, rain jackets and we packed in trash bags.

MARCI KRIVONEN: We pick up our packs and start up the trail, a gradual climb that's muddy from last night's storm. A healthy layer of muck builds quickly on the bottom of our boots.


KITTY WINOGRAD: That's an Englemann spruce.

MARCI KRIVONEN: So, what is this?

KITTY WINOGRAD: So, it's a spruce and we were (pointing out) that if you see these candle-like sticks, do you see that? The cone disintegrates before it hits the ground, so it leaves behind these bracts...versus another spruce, which would leave behind the cones on the ground. That's how you can distinguish between trees, looking for cones and if they're there or not.

MARCI KRIVONEN: Kitty stops again and points to a purple flower.

KITTY WINOGRAD: Larkspur and lupine look similar.

JAMIE HARRISON: This is Monk's Hood, also known as Wolf's Bain because they used to poison wolves with it.


JAMIE HARRISON: This, I believe, is water leaf. You can tell because of the shape of the leaf. You can imagine if water were to fall there it would go straight to the stem.

MARCI KRIVONEN: Good eye. You guys have the eyes I don't have on the trail, noticing plants and bugs.

MARCI KRIVONEN: We emerge from a thick aspen grove into a bright green sweeping meadow. We see the clouds moving closer to the valley floor. Our bare legs are moist from long grasses growing alongside the trail...that are wet from last night's storm. It's not raining yet. We keep hiking.

MARCI KRIVONEN: Kitty and Jamie may not know it, but their adventures in this backcountry are largely thanks to a trio of women. In the 1960s, Joy Caudill, Connie Harvey and the late Dottie Fox began working to protect pristine places in western Colorado...including much of the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness.

MARCI KRIVONEN: When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law...only certain sections of wild American land got protection. In the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness, high mountain peaks made the cut...but other unspoiled places in the region did not. It was left to activists to prove these lands deserved similar protection.

[Bring up ambient sound.]

MARCI KRIVONEN: Joy Caudill is 86 years old and lives at the edge of the wilderness she helped preserve. A broad window in her living room frames an enormous rocky mountain that rises nearly 13-thousand feet above sea level.

JOY CAUDILL: "I mean, the view is it. As far as I'm concerned, I bought this house for the view. And the leaves go off the trees and I see the all the nice ranch land down there.

MARCI KRIVONEN: We're sitting at her kitchen table...she's set out cookies and iced tea. She opens a thick book and pulls out maps she drew by hand 50 years ago. This makeshift scrapbook contains paperwork used in her fight for wilderness.

JOY CAUDILL: This is my whole workbook, (detailing) each area. A lot of people were interested in this. They broke up into groups and teams and "ground truth" is what we called, I mean, check out everything in the area to see if there was anything that was going to disqualify it from being wilderness.

MARCI KRIVONEN: Crews looked for signs of development like homes and roads. After the on-the-ground inventory, the group drafted recommendations...and eventually lobbied elected officials.

MARCI KRIVONEN: Caudill was raised in Denver but spent summers hiking and fishing in these mountains. She remembers the moment she realized she wanted to make a difference...It was during a hike to a high mountain lake.

JOY CAUDILL: There was someone I actually knew who was on a tote-goat, and tote-goats were motorized scooters. It made a horrendous noise, and I could hear it across the whole basin. And, that's my first memory of thinking that something should be done.

MARCI KRIVONEN: Caudill was Connie Harvey's neighbor back then...and they became fast friends.

MARCI KRIVONEN: Harvey is also a "Maroon Belle." Now she lives about 30 miles from her friend, Joy Caudill. Harvey's home is also close to the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness - you can see the area's high peaks from the top of her driveway.

[Layer underneath the next couple of lines: greeting ambiance.]

MARCI KRIVONEN: I'm a little early.

CONNIE HARVEY: That's fine. I just need to get these shoes on.

MARCI KRIVONEN: Today we're planning a walk around her wooded property. Fifty years ago it wasn't just a home but a gathering place for wilderness advocates.

CONNIE HARVEY: I guess my ski poles are in my car. I might take this in case we go down to the river.

MARCI KRIVONEN: Oh sure. A little walking stick?

CONNIE HARVEY: Yeah. With two bad knees, I can go up things but going down is hard.


MARCI KRIVONEN: We head toward Maroon Creek...a stream that runs through her property but, starts in the expansive wilderness area.

[Maroon Creek ambiance/rushing water.]

MARCI KRIVONEN: On our walk, Harvey remembers spending time with her family in the mountains nearby.

CONNIE HARVEY: We loved that country. I used to take the kids up there.

CONNIE HARVEY: It's an emotional thing to get out in that country and have even one day or a half day up there and see the world very much as it used to be. It's just a deep feeling that this is a wonderful place. It's awe-inspiring, really because it's so beautiful. So, if you have a chance to do something to preserve it, it becomes important and motivating and then you don't begrudge putting in some time and doing what it takes.

MARCI KRIVONEN: Harvey remembers writing letters to her congressmen and traveling to Washington DC in her fight for wilderness. That was just the start. Later, she wrote a column in the local newspaper, helped conserve thousands of acres of private land near Aspen and has been recognized for inspiring younger environmental advocates. At eighty three she continues to raise awareness about environmental issues.

MARCI KRIVONEN: Fifty years later, the Maroon Belles' work has paid off but there are some repercussions.

MARCI KRIVONEN: These days, many trails in the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness are busy and finding solitude can be difficult. And, the number of visitors continues to grow. In 2013, Forest Service officials counted more than 15-thousand overnight visitors. That's 4-thousand more people than two years earlier.

MARCI KRIVONEN: Rangers call high-use areas "hot spots." These are places where high mountain lakes and woods have turned into party scenes. That's what's happening at Conundrum Hot Springs - a destination that's being loved to death.

KEVIN FRAZIER: Recently it's been getting a lot of publications of one of the top hikes in Colorado and the top place to go backpacking I think due to the reward at the top.

MARCI KRIVONEN: Kevin Frazier is a wilderness ranger.

KEVIN FRAZIER: It's not the easiest hike, so it does take some determination to get in there and as a reward, you get the hot springs.

KEVIN FRAZIER: They hike in for the party, not for the wilderness experience. So, when they're hiking in like that, they typically don't care as much about what the area looks like around them. We've found empty bags of wine on the ground, we've found full tents, collapsed and abandoned, towels, bathing suits, liquor bottles. They just leave it up there and we pack it all out.

[Opening ambiance - sounds of a garbage being opened.]

NOAH TELLER: Do we have another sign, the one that says, "why should I pack out my poop?"

MARCI KRIVONEN: Ranger intern Noah Teller is looking for trash at the trailhead...He's standing near a brown metal container that normally holds "wag bags," or disposable toilet kits.

NOAH TELLER: Unfortunately when it gets empty, people tend to use it as a trash can. So, we've got to clear this out and fill it back up.

MARCI KRIVONEN: This is not a trash can, it says.

NOAH TELLER: Not only is this a hassle for us to pack out but this is actually pretty dangerous. If we leave food soiled trash in a non-secured canister, bears can be accustomed to hanging out at the trailhead because they like the food. It's no good.

MARCI KRIVONEN: He opens the lid and finds piles of trash.


MARCI KRIVONEN: More than you expected?

NOAH TELLER: Yes. Although I guess I should have expected this much, honestly.

MARCI KRIVONEN: This summer has been particularly filthy at the trailhead and beyond. Rangers typically pack out several pounds of garbage over one weekend.

MARCI KRIVONEN: They also spend a lot of hours burying human waste, which pollutes the stream.

MARCI KRIVONEN: The Forest Service has implemented rules - like no dogs at the hot springs - to try and curb the waste problem. But, it's not helping. As the area becomes more popular, the trash problem grows.

MARCI KRIVONEN: Kevin Frazier and another ranger, Tsipora Prochovnick (prah-hove-nick) get ready to start their trek.

KEVIN FRAZIER: I'm not sure how much trash is up there right now.

TSIPORA PROCHOVNICK: I suspect a lot because it's been a week and a half since we've been up here.

KEVIN FRAZIER: We have been consistently filling trash bags and carrying them out.

MARCI KRIVONEN: Without their presence, the rangers think the area would become even messier. Problem is, there are only six rangers patrolling 300-thousand acres of land...and only a few of them can write tickets.

MARCI KRIVONEN: Rangers say the increasingly large crowds are not only threatening the ecosystem, but the point of wilderness, itself...where the land is meant to be untrammeled by man.

MARCI KRIVONEN: The clouds are getting thicker a few days later...just over the mountains from Conundrum Hot Springs. Hikers Kitty Winograd and Jamie Harrison are trudging through the mud. The forest's aroma is fresh with a subtle sweetness. A mule deer jumps in front of us on its way down the valley.

MARCI KRIVONEN: Kitty talks about her summer job giving tours as a naturalist. She has just 45 minutes to teach tourists about nature...and leave a lasting impression. She remembers guiding a couple from Pittsburgh.

KITTY WINOGRAD: And I was reading a quote by Edward Abby who did Desert Solitaire, about how you need wilderness even if you never set foot there, you need to protect wilderness even if you forever live among the power lines and right angles of a city because wilderness is basically the same thing as hope. So, I read that quote and they said, ‘Wow, that was really fitting for us because we don't have a mountain in our backyard, we have another city.

MARCI KRIVONEN: Kitty's story hit me like a pine cone falling from a tree - wilderness and all it has to offer, with its grandeur and tranquillity, is medicine for our overly busy lives.

MARCI KRIVONEN: Did you expect this trail to be so muddy?!

JAMIE HARRISON: I did only because I walked down it yesterday during a torrential downpour, so it was a river. I'm happily surprised it's only a little muddy and not a river, still.

MARCI KRIVONEN: The trail is a gradual climb, today's hike isn't an easy one. Recent rains have made rocks slick and the mud seems to be getting harder to navigate.

MARCI KRIVONEN: I decide to head back.

MARCI KRIVONEN: Alright, well good luck guys and may the force be with you. Hopefully the showers won't come, or heavy storms, anyway.

JAMIE HARRISON: I'm not going to lie, the overcast and low clouds are beautiful. If it rains, we'll make it through it together. Sometimes when you're so miserable, it's fun.

MARCI KRIVONEN: You guys will become even closer.

JAMIE HARRISON: And, dinner will taste even better. [Laughs.]

MARCI KRIVONEN: Shortly after I begin picking my way down the path, the clouds open. At first, there's a drizzle.

[Ambiance/drizzling rain.]

MARCI KRIVONEN: It continues to rain and I think of Kitty and Jamie, slugging through the mud. I find out a week later the girls never make it to their destination. After 4 hours of hiking and two treacherous creek crossings they turn around, disappointed. Jamie tells me later they hiked a full 18 miles that day and were grateful for a warm, dry bed at the end.

MARCI KRIVONEN: Despite all the trash, crowds and busyness, the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness with all of its mystery and unpredictability really is a wild place...where nature determines the outcome of a day...rather than people.

STEVE SERGEANT: You've been listening to Untrammeled. That was Producer Marci Krivonen in the Maroon Bells Snowmass wilderness in the White River National Forest of Colorado.

STEVE SERGEANT: If you're planning a visit, be prepared for changing conditions. Carry the right gear, and adjust your plans to stay safe. By learning and following the seven Leave No Trace principles, you can help maintain the beauty of these places. To learn more, visit wilderness five zero T H dot org slash untrammeled. That's wilderness-50-th, dot org.

STEVE SERGEANT: America's wilderness stands as a monument to the ideal of participatory government in the United States. While other countries erected cathedrals, palaces, pyramids, and great temples, in honor of powerful empires, the U.S. made a different choice. Here in the U.S., we have wonders of nature that we could never improve upon; spectacular mountains and canyons, forests and prairies. Together, we established a system to protect these natural treasures. Can you imagine a more fitting monument to the ideal of a government by, of, and for the people?

[Theme music slowly fade-in under.]

STEVE SERGEANT: This show is part of the celebration of the fiftieth year of the American Wilderness Act. The Wilderness Act of 1964 preserves public lands for the American people to use and enjoy -- places where the earth, and its community of life, are untrammeled by man.

STEVE SERGEANT: Untrammeled is produced by Effable Communications, in collaboration with AudioLuxe Media.

STEVE SERGEANT: The AudioLuxe team includes: Mia Lobel [loh-BEL], Ellison Libiran [LIB - er - ahn], Nick Lamb, Chloe Davidson, and Olivia Swilley. Composer Danny Clay produced our theme music. Jean Higham assisted with editing and research. Our Senior Producer is Stacy Bond. I'm the Executive Producer and your host, Steve Sergeant.

STEVE SERGEANT: Thank you for listening!

[Theme music finale.]

MIA LOBEL: "Untrammeled" is made possible with funds provided by the University of Montana's Wilderness Institute, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the USDA Forest Service, the Society for Wilderness Stewardship, and the Wilderness50 project.

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