• Add wilderness to protect mountain corridor
    August 09,2006
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    Growing up in Vermont, I spent most of my time out in the forest, skiing, climbing trees and making trails. Usually alone, but never lonely, a deep reverence for wildness and wilderness grew inside me and became as much a part of me as the blood flowing in my veins. This has never left me.

    I yearn to see more wilderness protected on the Green Mountain National Forest, and I hope Congress will improve and approve the wilderness legislation proposed in April by Vermont's senators and congressman.

    While my family spans at least seven generations in Vermont, I am also greatly influenced by the wisdom of the native peoples who preceded us here. They have always had a conviction that they must make every effort to leave the natural world in better health than they found it. Sadly, this is not what we have done.

    We humans have upset many fragile balances in the natural world in just a flicker of time. Deforestation. Extinctions. Climate disruption. Therefore, we are not only responsible; we are also the earth's best hope for reversing — at least in some places — what we have done.

    We must do many things to restore balance and health to the earth, but preserving and protecting wild nature is a tangible action we can take today. Vermont's members of Congress have proposed bills which, if passed, would give nature a small but valuable and permanent toehold here in the south and central Green Mountains. With the stroke of a pen, we can give nature a chance to heal itself in this place.

    The wilderness proposal ought to be better. As it stands, it includes a snowmobile trail to the summit of Glastenbury Mountain, the sweet spot of the proposed Glastenbury Wilderness. I believe that everyone, including motorized sports enthusiasts, appreciates nature. Fortunately, there is still enough space in the Green Mountain National Forest to accommodate all interests. Just as snowmobilers' interests are accommodated by a trail network to every corner of Vermont, so too should the interests of those seeking motor-free solitude in wild nature be accommodated, thereby restoring a small fraction of Vermont to a natural condition. I hope they can recognize that closing this seldom used side trail would help protect the tranquility of the high ground.

    This opportunity to restore a small part of the earth is very special. And the land included in the wilderness proposal is unique. Most of Vermont is steep valleys and ridge tops, whereas this whole area of the southern Vermont Appalachians is a huge, high plateau. The headwaters of Lye Brook, the Winhall River, the Deerfield River are an enormous bench of ponds, marshes, wetlands and undulating ridges.

    I personally love skiing in wild trailless forestland, because I can experience nature, yet leave absolutely no trace. The Glastenbury-Lye Brook plateau's gentle terrain can easily be traversed by a lower intermediate skier, as long as he or she has the endurance. It is the most beautiful skiing terrain you could possible imagine. There is nothing else I've seen in Vermont, or New England for that matter, like it. Its topography is like Norway's. If it were in Norway, people would be going crazy over this terrain. Future Americans will revere it, too, if it remains big, wild and beautiful.

    Unfortunately, the wilderness proposal in Congress leaves out a lot of the extraordinary national forest land that could connect Glastenbury Mountain with Lye Brook Wilderness. I hope the final wilderness law will establish the entire Glastenbury-Lye Brook lands as a world-class wilderness.

    Connecting wilderness areas into a continuous north-south corridor along the spine of the Green Mountains is an achievable goal for future efforts. This corridor is a key species migration route in our region, provides clean water and air, and moderates climate — all precious economic assets.

    Around the world, healthy wild country also stimulates local economies, attracting high-quality enterprises and skilled workers to the vicinity. This should not be a surprise. I believe it indicates that deep in our hearts we share the wisdom of native peoples and their longing for unimpaired land.

    I hope that Congress will act soon, to return natural balance and health to a small piece of the earth here in Vermont for our children and grandchildren to pass on to their descendants.

    Bill Koch won a silver medal in the 1976 Olympics and won the 1982 World Cup in cross-country skiing. He lives in the town of Peru.
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