Sillars on Continental Divide Trail

Mal Sillars stops to drink in the surroundings along the Continental Divide Trail near Mineral Basin west of Buena Vista.

I love trails. I enjoy trails that go to the summits, but mainly I love long trails like the Colorado and Continental Divide trails. I grew up not far from the Appalachian Trail in New England. That was my first experience with trails that seemed endless. It was here that I learned my hiking, camping and outdoor trail skills.

My first wilderness experience came many years later, after marriage, when a few friends decided that it might be fun to hit the trail again, perhaps for a week.

It was up to me to determine the location and I chose the Pemigewasset Wilderness in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest.

Why the wilderness? Mainly because it sounded a bit exotic at the time. After a fun week in the forest, I still did not know why it was called a wilderness.

My next experience with the wilderness was in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. Soon after moving to Colorado, I started hiking all the local trails, many of which had signs telling me that I was entering a wilderness area.

Everything looked the same on either side of the sign, so I really didn’t know anything more about the meaning of wilderness.

In the late fall of 2013, winds blew down thousands of trees in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness and in the spring of 2014, a call went out to help clear trails.

A few of us, with the U.S. Forest Service, founded the Upper Arkansas Wilderness Volunteers and we began cutting trees and clearing the local trails.

I still didn’t notice much difference between the wilderness and non-wilderness areas, but I really enjoyed being in the forest with a purpose.

There are some special rules that apply to wilderness that do not apply to non-wilderness areas. Each wilderness may have its own special rules, but the primary feature that makes the wilderness unique is that it is protected.

Congress has designated these special areas to protect them from the onslaught of the outside world.

We can enjoy them freely in our camping, hiking, hunting, fishing or personal rejuvenation. We are the visitors and also must be the caretakers.

A wilderness is a world of nature set aside and protected to be wild in its own way.

Does it feel different in the wilderness? Sometimes.

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