Park celebrates wilderness act with week of programs

By Katie Demeria

This week, Shenandoah National Park is celebrating its first wilderness week — but park officials are hoping the message will reverberate all year long.

Wednesday was officially the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, which was signed into law in 1964. Interpretive Supervisor Debby Smith said those who enjoy Shenandoah National Park should be especially grateful for the act.

Forty percent of the park is designated wilderness area, according to Smith, making it the only park service site in Virginia to have the designation.

The park’s wilderness area is also one of the largest on the East Coast, and few others are as close to metropolitan areas.

“For a lot of people, wilderness seems like a far away place,” Smith said. “They have to go out west or to Alaska to experience wilderness. But it’s really right in their backyards.

“People in Washington D.C., Northern Virginia and Maryland — they have this great natural area where they can come and experience wilderness.”

The 40 percent wilderness area translates to about 80,000 acres, Smith said. And most of that area is easily accessible from Skyline Drive.

This week, and especially during the upcoming weekend, the park will host several special hikes that go through the wilderness, including a Rose River wilderness hike and Chimney Rock hike.

Visitors will also be able to sit in on several seminars and short films, through which they can learn more about the park’s history and wilderness areas. Many of these lectures are offered throughout the year but have been packaged to fit into wilderness week for the anniversary.

Designed wilderness areas, Smith said, add an extra level of protection to public land. Rather than simply being protected through a park system or forest service, Shenandoah’s 80,000 acres is kept particularly untouched and pristine.

No buildings have been constructed in the wilderness area, and the use of mechanized equipment is as limited as possible. Visitors may see park staff using cross saws and other primitive tools to maintain the trees, Smith said.

“Everybody has a personal perspective that they bring to the wilderness, a renewal or hope or curiosity or solitude,” she said. “It’s a very personal thing.”

Staff will be encouraging visitors to engage with their own personal view of the wilderness areas during hikes and seminars, according to Smith. The park has also been regularly posting wilderness-related information on their Facebook page to provide a place for personal engagement, as well.

“We want people to take some time to be aware of the fact that we have this wilderness and become a steward and understand more about it,” Smith added. “Take this 50th anniversary as a chance to find out what it’s about and experience it.”

To learn more about the act or programs being offered this week, visit http://www.nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/wilderness50-events.htm.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com