Most of the officially designated wilderness in the United States is found in the Rockies and Pacific coast states including (especially) Alaska. In the Midwest, the only significant wilderness area is Boundary Waters Canoe Area in far northern Minnesota. There are some smaller areas scattered throughout, but they don’t really amount to much.
That said, there’s an incredible amount of wild country out here in central Iowa. In terms of wildlife habitat, we pretty much have it all. I’ve seen everything from Bald Eagles to bobcats on my daily bicycle rides in and around Jefferson. The eagles and other raptors are a common site. I’ve learned their patterns. I think back to a trip we took to Pittsburgh a few years ago and how people were scanning the bluffs for a glimpse of eagles. I get that pretty much every day here.
This is no small thing to me. I love nature and wilderness. I think it’s a necessary part of a full and happy life. I think when we’re removed from the natural world for too long, things start to break down and we start to suffer.
One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that designating a place as official wilderness is not necessarily a good thing. Many wilderness areas are not doing so well. As much as it pains me to admit it, many bikers and hikers don’t seem to understand that if they don’t actively work to protect these areas that they will cease to exist. Colorado, in particular, is a major disappointment. The state’s obsession with growth is destroying the very thing that made it special.
Out here on the far northwest fringes of metro Des Moines, we don’t have much population pressure and that’s critical to wilderness survival. We have agriculture and that means chemicals, but there aren’t a lot of people and the land seems to endure. Whereas in the suburbs you might have 4 houses per acre, out here you’re likely to find one house per every 160 acres. That’s a scale of magnitude of 640x.
And agriculture is slowly changing as well. Family farms still prevail around here and more and more farmers are concerned with the long term viability of the land. They understand that goosing production comes with a cost and that cost is future production. Deplete the soil and it will eventually fail. Maintain it and it will support generations to come. It’s not perfect. I’m not saying that. It is getting better, though, and that’s good.
We also have a wide river valley prone to flooding. It’s heavily treed and undeveloped and it is as starkly beautiful in its own way as any place that I’ve been in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah or Wyoming.
I feel a profound sense of gratitude for getting to live in this place among the eagles and other critters. When I’m out on the bike, I am overwhelmed by the silence and the simple beauty of the land.