The Lee Metcalf Wilderness

Thick, black framed glasses — Lee’s signature.
Thick, black framed glasses — Lee’s signature.

This summer marks the 30th anniversary of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area in southwest Montana’s Gallatin National Forest. The wilderness area consists of four units, totaling at 254,288 acres in the Madison range, including the picturesque Spanish Peaks.

It is named after the Montana Representative and Senator (from years 1961-1978) largely responsible for Medicaid and the Peace Corps. In addition to human rights, Metcalf campaigned vigorously for wilderness protection in Montana and beyond—thus, the Lee Metcalf Wilderness.

Although the Metcalf Wilderness is one of the state’s largest wilderness areas, it remains fragmented. The bears, wolves, ungulates, and other large critters require vast swaths of habitat to survive. Creating corridors between wilderness areas will allow the fauna and flora of the Greater Yellowstone, and all ecosystems for that matter, to live in continuous habitat.

Forest ecologist Gregory H. Aplet writes, “Wilderness is neither simply an idea nor a place. It is a place where an idea is clearly expressed—the idea of wildness.” 

In the book The Abstract Wild, Jack Turner contemplates the wildness within modern man when he writes, “our ecological crisis is a crisis of character, not a political or social crisis.” For Turner, the loss of self-willed environments is also the loss of our own sense of self. In living within purely human-built environments, we are cut off from the life force that sustains us not only on physical levels, but on emotional or even spiritual levels as well.

In many ways, Lee Metcalf was a visionary; his sense of adventure and opportunity made wilderness protection possible in the 1970s. Today, we still have the potential to further preserve the Madison Range ecosystem, creating corridors for wildlife (including humans). Yet it will require the imagination expressed in Lee’s life work.

To get involved with wilderness protection in the Madison-Gallatin ranges of southwest Montana, here's a link to Montana Wilderness Association's website

This past week I managed to get out in the Metcalf: once on a hike to Jerome Rock Lake with my friend Renee, and once bouldering with some buds alongside Cascade Creek. To follow are some photos from the adventures. And cheers to wild places everywhere, and to the people and organizations working to preserve the ecosystems that sustain us.

Renee enjoying Jerome Rock Lake in the Spanish Peaks. 

Renee enjoying Jerome Rock Lake in the Spanish Peaks.