After he signed the bill, no further vehicular access was permitted in any wilderness area, for, according to the provisions of the 1964 Wilderness Act, the wording in part reads: "A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."
Working from a suggestion received from our colleagues at the Oregon Natural Desert Association, who had worked hard to ensure the passage of the Omnibus Bill, Friends of the Badlands had set ourselves the task of removing old weathered juniper fence posts, from which we had over the last year removed 3 miles and 3 tons of obsolete barbed wire.
These old juniper fence posts would be distributed free to families in need of heating materials, so the goal was to remove as many as possible out of the Badlands Wilderness Study area before the Bill was signed into law. We asked for help from Prineville BLM, if we could use a couple of rigs to haul these posts out. Help was asked from Friends of the Badlands volunteers. We asked for help from Heart of Oregon Americorps service volunteers.
Help arrived; 16 of us assembled at the trailhead 8.30 a.m. that Monday morning, with two BLM vehicles, the only vehicles allowed into a wilderness study area, and only for special uses. When the Bill was signed into law, all vehicles had to leave immediately. We had also received confirmation the President intended to sign at about 2:00 p.m. eastern time, thus giving us about three hours to haul out the posts.
After a quick briefing, volunteers dispersed into three or four separate work parties and hiked three and four miles into the Wilderness Study Area, following the old fence line from which the barbed wire had previously been removed. Much of this barbed wire had been down on the ground, twisted and tangled, posing a hazard to Badlands Wilderness Study Area wildlife.
The posts had been randomly scattered either side of the fence line, the better to gradually return to the earth over a period of many years. The work involved picking up the posts and placing them by the side of the original trails, at scattered intervals. As the fence lines run straight, and the trails turned and wound around volcanic outcrops and formations, the posts had often to be carried long distances from where they were scattered, to the trailside.
The two pickups worked up and down the old trails, followed by volunteers who loaded the posts, who then went with the vehicles to the trailhead where they were unloaded. And back again, knowing that we were running out of time.
We worked virtually non-stop for about three and a half hours, when a cell phone call told us the President had just signed the Bill. We were elated, not only at the knowledge we had probably removed about three to four cubic yards of heating materials, but further elated because the Badlands Wilderness Study Area had become a fully protected Wilderness, after many trials and travails over the years.
Success had been achieved.
The vehicles immediately drove out to the trailhead, volunteers following on foot, with the gradual realization that we had made history. Friends of the Badlands volunteers and the volunteers from Heart of Oregon Americorps, with the two staff from BLM might be the only people to have actually been in a wilderness study area, involved in a community effort, when at the stroke of a pen, it became wilderness.
We had walked into a wilderness study area and we hiked out of "Oregon Badlands Wilderness," the newest addition, with others, to Oregon's fully protected wild places, "where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."
Volunteers reflected and celebrated quietly on a gentle rimrock ridge, in bright sunshine, looking into Oregon Badlands Wilderness; we thought we could hear all the wildlife who dwell there join us in celebration.
It was a bright day.
David Eddleston is a retired business owner. He has served on the Tower Theatre's board of directors and is currently the volunteer coordinator for the Friends of the Oregon Badlands Wilderness. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.