Wilderness is an indispensable part of American history. Native Americans depended on the bounty of wildlands for survival and held Earth and its wild places as sacred. The great western explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were inspired by the untamed beauty of wild places that became the forge upon which our distinctive American national character was created. After just 200 years from the time of Lewis and Clark, the essential wildness of America had virtually disappeared. As Americans realized that the long-term health and welfare of the nation were at risk, a vision for conservation emerged.

In 1964 our nation’s leaders formally acknowledged the immediate and lasting benefits of wild places to the human spirit and fabric of our nation. That year, in a nearly unanimous vote, Congress enacted landmark legislation that permanently protected some of the most natural and undisturbed places in America . The Wilderness Act of 1964 established the National Wilderness Preservation System, the system of all America ’s wilderness areas, to “secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.”

The United States was the first country in the world to define and designate wilderness areas through law. Subsequently, countries around the world have protected areas modeled after the Wilderness Act. Wilderness is part of our history and heritage and is passed as a legacy to future generations. Indispensable to the American past, the legacy that is wilderness will remain indispensable to the American future.

Select a choice below to learn more about your wilderness heritage. For example, what is wilderness and why is it so important? Where are wilderness areas located and how are they managed? Who helped establish wilderness areas and what can you do to help take care of them?

Interview with Don Neubacher - Superintendent, Point Reyes National Park

W hen the Wilderness Act was passed, there was overwhelming support in both the House and the Senate. I think the vote of something like 374-to-1, and like 80-to-20 on the Senate side. There was strong public interest in preserving wilderness across the nation and initially there was only 9 million acres. That’s 9 million acres in all the federal agencies, not just the Park Service. Today, we’ve got about 105 million acres, and that’s an area the size of California that’s been fully protected with this high legal status that ensures pretty much that wilderness will be here for future generations.



Introductory Video Text

Introduction to wilderness

What is wilderness?

Where is wilderness?

Why did U.S. citizens feel the need to legally protect wilderness?

How is wilderness managed?

Who is involved with wilderness today?

Wilderness up close

How can you help?



Wilderness Index

Return to Views