Wilderness and the Urban Interface

This weekend I was reflecting on Wilderness and a recent visit to Tucson.  While it may seem odd to put those two things together, Wilderness and a major metropolitan area, it is precisely what Congress has done.

You see, the Pusch Ridge Wilderness area is to be found in Tuscon’s backyard, literally.  The Pontatoc Trail begins at a parking lot in a residential area and runs a few feet inside the Coronado National Forest boundary, so close to the backyard patios one could have read the newspaper headlines of anyone sitting on the patio with morning coffee and paper in hand.

Soon though, the trail turns towards the Santa Catalina mountains and in less distance than can be covered by a golf ball and nine-iron enters the Pusch Ridge Wilderness.

Even with a city at it’s edge, this is no “urban wilderness”. this is the real deal, complete with javelina, coyotes, rattlesnakes and desert bighorn sheep. The landscape is as rugged and unforgiving as any in the desert southwest.

And because Congress designated it as Wilderness the Pusch Ridge area will stay that way, wild, rugged and beckoning to those who thirst for adventure.  It won’t become the next exclusive, gated desert community.  Instead of trophy homes, this area will maintain the habitat needed for trophy bighorns.

On the day we explored Pontatoc canyon, we were not alone on the trail. We joined my dad and his regular hiking  group from “Sunflower”, a local community of “active retirees.”   Even thought it was a Friday, there was also a group of students from the local university, a group from one of the high end resorts and several individuals. All were respectful of the need to limit their size in such settings and travelled on different trails at different speeds, so there plenty of room for everyone.

Not only can Wilderness and communities co-exist, they can benefit each other. Wilderness is designated by Congress because people care. And, after all, we care most about our own backyard.  We care enough to make sure that as our communities change we preserve some of the natural setting that defines our community.  This is as true in the Panhandle of Idaho and Northwestern Montana as it is in metropolitan Tucson.

No one would argue that Pusch Ridge, in Tucson’s backyard, will ever find the same solitude that they might find in the Brooks Range in Alaska, or even in the Scotchmans, but the Wilderness designation does preserve the opportunity for many people to experience the raw desert hills which might otherwise be paved over or groomed for yet another golf course.

In fact, it occurs to me, as I reflect on it, that Wilderness so close to Tucson may very well make the city part of that juxtaposition much more interesting and livable. Wilderness will be one of the things that attracts students, retirees and resort visitors. Wilderness for Pusch Ridge will help secure the wild desert ridge and will help secure Tucson’s quality of life as well as it’s economy.  I know that Pusch ridge has secured a draw for me to return.

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Categories: Blog
About The Author:

Phil Hough is the Executive Director of the Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness.

He has hiked the "triple crown": the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest trail (twice). He has also paddled the length of the Yukon river. Phil's love of wilderness guides him as he works to save the incrediblly wild Scotchman Peaks, one of the last and largest roadless places in northern Idaho and western Montana.

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