Missing American's Public Lands

AND we're back! Hello friends, I, Deborah (organizer of this project), stepped away for a brief 6 months from Letter To Congress Project to relocate to a different country. It's ironic to start a project about America's public lands, knowing you won't be stepping foot on them for a year or so. As it turns out, leaving the country has only reinforced my passion for public lands in the United States. Which, again, is ironic as Ecuador (roughly the size of Nevada) has 10 National Parks, 9 National Ecological Reserves, 4 Biological Reserves, 10 Wildlife Refuges, and 1 Geological Reserve. And there's more. Most public lands in Ecuador are gratis, free to the public. Ten different climates exist in Ecuador, which means that national protected areas include diverse environments such as the paramo or high alpine, cloud forests, amazonian jungle, and desert coasts. And, Ecuador is the first country to recognize the rights of nature with in its constitution.

As an outdoor enthusiast, I should be thrilled. But the truth is, I miss my public lands. I miss red rock deserts, pine forests, and herds of large mammals. I miss trees and plants that are familiar by name. I miss route finding in a new place, knowing that I may come back here and recognize the landscape as if it were an old friend. I can rest in the wild country of the United States in a way that I just can't quite do here. Even if, among cloud forests and hummingbirds, I am enchanted.

And to be honest, some of the things I miss aren’t pristine wildlands or noble aspects of national protection areas. I miss the spectrum of ways in which our shared value of public lands plays out among the American demographic. I miss dirtbag rock climbers and families on fourwheelers. I miss campfires and noisy campgrounds. I miss NGS topo maps that you can pick up at almost any outdoor store, including hunting surplus outlets. I can’t believe I am saying this, but I miss RV’s with a collection of 5 bicycles strapped to the back running their generator on a National Forest Road in the middle of nowhere. I miss the the culture of van life and the American worship of the open road (that leads them hopefully into an undiscovered national park or BLM recreation area). I miss crowded trailhead parking lots and the click of hiking poles just up the trail. And I miss seeing women recreating solo. I miss that feeling of dread when a bus full of school children empties out into the group campsite area next to my own. I miss the culture of outdoor adventure, play, and discover.

It could be that, culturally, I don’t totally relate to the Ecuadorian relationship to their public lands. Even if I am living here, I am, after all, just a long time tourist. I asked my husband if also missed this aspect of public lands in the United States, and he does not. In fact he feels pretty happy with his experiences here and disagrees, reminding me of how many families I have seen hiking. So what is missing? Is it that the poetic words of John Muir or Terry Tempest Williams are not conjured by this landscape to whisper in my ear? Am I just nostalgic to what is familiar? Or have American public lands become altogether their own person  with a physical body (the land) and a spirit (its inhabitants) and a soul (our community of outdoor lovers)?

As I hold this longing, I remember that many people have seen our film and over 50 of you have written letters advocating for the wild public places that perhaps you long for because they feel like a part of who you are, what has shaped you or healed you and made you who you are. You are hikers, bikers, anglers, dirtbikers, campervan-ers, hunters, plant i.d.ers, wanderers, peak-bagger, backcountry runners, skiers & snowboarders, snowmobilers, environmental ed. teachers and more. And there’s alot of positive bi-partisan movement right now among our lawmakers toward supporting and protecting our public lands.

It’s time to bring your voices out and spread the love to those of us who are near and far from public lands.


Deborah Colley