We are just finished with the first National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance conference . . . or at least many of us are. Some lucky souls are out on a field trip/workday in a local wilderness area while the rest of us are finding our way home and back to our real lives.
The lucky souls are that because, for one thing, they are getting to be outside for the first time in a couple of days. The inaugural annual meeting of NWSA has been held captive in classic Las Vegas style; ensconced in the Red Rock Resort away out on the west end of Charleston Boulevard. The resort is so far west, in fact, that the last time I was in Vegas, the resort grounds still harbored not much more than grease and rabbit brush and the occasional yucca and Joshua tree.
It is interesting to come “home” to this silly city, built on the idea of luck, but where luck is really a non sequitur. I was lucky enough to survive living here a couple of different times for a total of seven years. I am sort of fond of the place, in the manner that you might be fond of a crazy aunt or uncle; a parental sibling that is exciting and fun to hang out with, but never grew up and has some habits and haunts the rest of the family can only guess at. Too much of Aunt Vegas can be bad for your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Not to mention your luck.
It is also interesting that, from the glass wall that makes up the west wall of our room on the sixth floor, not only can you see the down-right decadent pool area of the resort — an acre or so of blatant water consumption staffed by young women in brightly colored form fitting pants and sheer white tops — you can also see a couple of wilderness areas.
Clark County, Nevada, of which Las Vegas is the county seat and home of nearly 150,000 hotel rooms — and over 200,000 slot machines — also contains 20 wilderness areas encompassing nearly 452,0000 acres, including the Rainbow Mountain Wilderness that the lucky souls are enjoying today, one of those visible from the Red Rock.
It’s comforting to know that Clark County has more acres of wilderness that it does slot machines. This intimates that someone in this crazy place has a sense of priority that makes sense for the future, and has a passion for the wild places.
The National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance, a nearly brand-new organization, is full of folks with that passion. They came to conference from Alaska, Vermont, South Carolina, Colorado, California, Idaho, Montana, Washington State and Washington, D.C. They came from the Park Service, the Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management — the four federal agencies that manage designated wilderness. They came from the Wilderness Society, Pew Trusts, the Pacific Crest Trail Association and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, all large and well-funded. And they came from groups like FSPW, small and medium-sized organizations, each concerned with preserving and stewarding a special place or a collection of special places.
NWSA will grow and prosper because we need this group and the idea behind it to care for the wilderness we have now and the wilderness we will get as time goes on. The ideas of advocacy and stewardship go hand in hand. One leads to the other, no matter which you begin from.
After being held captive at Red Rock for three days, I am now being held captive at McCarran International, after which I will be held captive in a 737 for a couple more hours before being released in Spokane. The lucky souls, meanwhile, are breaking for lunch up in the jumbled beauty of Rainbow Mountain Wilderness. They are talking about what they care about, listening and learning from each other. They are sharing their passion. How much luckier can they get?