America's Best-Kept Wilderness is Yours to Explore!
The BLM proudly protects many of our nation's most treasured landscapes under a system of lands known as the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS). Celebrating more than 10 years of managing these conservation areas, the BLM partnered with National Geographic Magazine to produce a map highlighting these amazing open spaces specially designated and intentionally set aside for public use and enjoyment.
Northwest Passage will feature interviews with BLM experts who will offer their insights and recommendations about how to best visit and explore these special places. So print out a copy of your National Geographic NLCS 10th Anniversary Commemorative Map and prepare to witness some of the best locations that America's Great Outdoors has to offer.
So what makes up one of these special landscapes designated under the NLCS? Well, they may be one of a variety of different settings such as wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers, national monuments, national conservation areas, and scenic and historic trails, among others. But what do those different names really mean? Not to worry - we've got the answers! Our first issue focuses on the Wilderness Area designation - and to help us understand what it means I spoke with BLM expert Mr. Jerry Magee, the BLM's statewide lead for Wilderness in Oregon and Washington.
So what is a BLM Wilderness Area?
Jerry Magee: Wilderness Areas are set aside by Congress and must meet specific criteria to include at least 5,000 acres in size, no motorized equipment use, have no roads, and possess outstanding opportunities for either solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.
What does that mean for the average visitor to a Wilderness Area?
Jerry Magee: There are places you can go, for free, to get away from it all and experience a natural environment without the noise or distraction from too many visitors. Yes, Yellowstone National Park is spectacular. But have you ever experienced the untouched natural scenery in central Oregon's Badlands Wilderness? Here you can experience ancient junipers, volcanic vistas, and sand underfoot. You can explore cracked volcanic pressure ridges called tumuli or walk narrow moat‐like cracks in the ground. Traces of human history are visible to the careful observer. There are almost 50 miles of trails offering the visitor many opportunities for hiking or horseback riding on loops of various lengths.
Are Wilderness Areas hard to reach? Is there any special equipment required?
Jerry Magee: BLM manages eight wilderness areas in Oregon and one in Washington. Some are found just outside metropolitan areas such as the Table Rock Wilderness which is about an hour's drive from Portland in the Molalla River Watershed. Others such as the Hells Canyon Wilderness on the Oregon/Idaho border are more remote. However, most of the outdoor recreation areas on BLM‐managed lands have easily accessible trailheads with adequate parking. Visitors to these lands should plan ahead by consulting a map and talking with a local BLM expert about what to expect. It is always a good idea to cover the basics of survival and be prepared for the unexpected. This includes bringing extra food, clothing, shelter, a first‐aid kit, and a compass or GPS unit - and knowing how to use it! (Know your 10 essentials! - Ed.)
Where can I go to learn more about recreation in wilderness areas?
Jerry Magee: I highly recommend educating yourself prior to any trip in the backcountry or wilderness. You should obtain travel maps and current regulations from your local BLM District Office or online. And you may want to consider taking recreation skills classes or hiring an outfitter or guide. And you can also visit www.wilderness.net for specific information.
Lastly, what is your favorite Wilderness Area and why might you recommend this spot to others?
Jerry MageeM: Since my very first trip, I have enjoyed returning to the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management Protection Area in southeastern Oregon. This is a breathtaking place. It's a fault‐block mountain in the middle of the high desert with glaciated gorges, the meandering wild and scenic Blitzen River, lush meadows, and picturesque aspen groves. Even more appealing is that this rugged and remote area can be accessed from several locations along the highly scenic Steens Loop Road. You won't find a grand lodge or concessionaires nearby. You'll trade some luxuries for solitude and the rare escape from civilization - for the smell of sagebrush, crisp, cold air, and the crackle of your campfire. Wild horses roam the range, wildflowers bloom, and the night sky puts on a display like none other.
Meet Jerry Magee in his online video interview.