by Roy (Monte) High
Over the years I’ve heard numerous people disparage the designation of wilderness areas by speaking on behalf of people with disabilities. They say that wilderness areas are unfair to the disabled because there are no roads allowed to take them there. I’ve heard it said that the designation of wilderness areas is like a slap to the face of the disabled population. As a person with a disability, I wholeheartedly disagree.
In 1983, as a 20-year-old boy, I was driving along a small winding highway between Dolores and Cortez, Colorado when five horses ran out in front of me. The ensuing collision caused a spinal cord injury that left me paralyzed, a quadriplegic with limited movement below the neck. I have now lived most of my life navigating the Earth in a wheelchair.
Before the crash I was very physically active, and spent much of my time in the great outdoors—hiking, hunting, fishing, camping, being. Some of my best memories are of traversing the tree line—hiking along rushing streams, through mountain meadows, aspen and pine, to come face to face with rocky outcroppings. Walking through the wild wonder. Otherworldly surroundings. The silence—there is sound, but no noise. Just the soothing sound of nature. I’d sit still and listen, and move on with a renewed sense of belonging. I am reminded of the connectedness of all things, that everything is one in God. I am awakened to reality, aware of my place on the sacred path I follow as a human being. O the beauty! O the peace, the exaltation of my soul! Even now, as I write these words the beauty brings me to my knees in reverence, tears roll from my eyes. The tears come not because I can no longer visit these pristine places, but because these places exist—just knowing that such beauty exists within our world brings me joy.
I still love getting out into nature. There are many beautiful natural areas that I can access in my wheelchair, places I can sit where it seems as if I am out in the middle of the wilderness, where I can recharge my connection to nature, experience a sense of immediacy and enter wholly into the moment. I live in Grand Junction, Colorado. I love spending time on trails along the Colorado River and the local state parks. Wheelchair accessibility has come a long way in recent years. I am grateful. Yet, I am aware of the need for designated wilderness areas and I am grateful for the wild places where wildlife can thrive.
As a wheelchair user I have learned to adapt. There are many places that are not accessible to me, including many of my friend’s homes. I do not take this as a sign that I am not welcome. I do not expect my friends to spend thousands of dollars to remodel their houses just so that I can enter. There are many other places where we can meet, where my friends can welcome me into their hearts. Likewise, I do not expect anyone to build roads and trails over every square inch of wilderness so that I can visit in my wheelchair. Especially when I realize that my selfishness could lead to the demise of the very land I love. I love knowing that there are wild places where animals can room free without human disruption. Many species are going extinct. Some animals, such as elk, require large wildlife corridors for migration, and many species cannot survive around the noise and pollution of machines. These lands mean much more than how much money we can pump out of them—for much of God’s creation these wilderness lands are crucial for their survival.
Roy (Monte) High lives in Grand Junction, Colorado. He enjoys getting out into the natural areas nearby with his wife Elizabeth.
While I agree that access to rural areas should not be denied to anyone, I firmly believe that the argument of access for disabled is a contradiction. If putting a road in to allow persons with disabilities to gain access, then it is no longer wilderness. The argument then becomes how far do we go to accommodate anyone who expresses an interest. The question should be, how far is the individual willing to go to gain access beyond their normal limitations. After all, even those without any disability are expected to endure some difficulty venturing into the wilderness or everyone would have already been there.
I live in Brazil and I love nature and wilderness and for the last eleven years I'm living with a wheelchair eather. Your words felt gratefully in my heart, because it's exactly what I feel and think!
I agree wholeheartedly, Monte. I, too, used to be very active outdoors -- swimming, hiking, canoeing, and working in my own woods and fields -- and though I am not as disabled as you, I cannot do any of these things anymore. We need wilderness more than ever and it does not have to be accessible to every human being, far more important that it is accessible to wild creatures. There are so many places disabled people can go to experience nature; many parks have easy access for mobility devices.
And our politicians need to get out of the way of further destruction of forests and wild places. They have been so trained to think that endless development is a good thing they cannot seem to envision anything else. I live in Maine and we are cutting down trees in order to make way for transmission lines from Quebec -- where indigenous people's lands were flooded to make hydropower -- to Massachusetts. Quebec is already selling the power to New York but wants more money and runs endless ads in Maine that are filled with lies. I want to scream when politicians think that cutting down trees is the way to fight climate catastrophe!
the Wilderness should be left intack and untouched by human hands. we need free spaces like this for our own good -physically, mentally, and environmentally. we must preserve this area -we munst not lose sight of this gift of nature.
Thank you Roy for sharing your story with us! The part where you said you teared up just thinking about the beauty of nature and all of her glory really struck a chord with me and made me tear up too! We are so blessed to live in such a beautiful land!!
Thanks for that perspective. I have often wondered that big question. Access versus destruction to gain access.
I am glad you feel there is enough choices and you have figured out how to still get peace and you know how to
accept and take in, so it's possible anywhere. Many don't have that ability. You letter is a good lesson.
Humans are causing mass destruction not only of habitat but of wildlife , insects, our oceans and waters and just keep on going!! They are stopping at nothing. They are not respecting the park guidelines to stay on trails ( not off trails), to leave wildlife Alone, to take out Your Trash!
The anount opesticides & herbicides being used by individuals & state departments of transportation is sickening. We must protect & preserve the small amount of wild places we have and stop the big companies from any more poisoning. Educate the masses, shame the wrong doers at every level all over social media
I believe all national parks in the United States should be accessible to visit by all types of people. This should also apply to people legally covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. All animal species should be protected for present & future generations of people to visit protected areas under state parks, local parks & national parks.
The people in our governments need to be replaced by people with empathy for the environment and living things. The world needs to go vegan, if your not a vegetarian or vegan you are contributing to the disaster we are witnessing. At present money is God. If leaders are not replaced by thinking people very quickly it's all over. Of course they won't be replaced, people vote them in because the choice of leaders is limited to left or right and neither of those parties are in the least concerned about citizens health, well-being, ecology, the environment, the suffering and cruel slaughter of billions of animals each year. including fish the number is 950,000,000,000. So, there is the world. Populations rising, incredible pollution level, every single square in of land and every cubic inch of air and water on this not so long ago pristine planet is polluted. There are simple solutions but they won't be used. Humans think themselves superior but the truth is compared to the other animals, humans are a destructive out of step with nature species.
I applaud you. You have such an appreciation of nature and its preservation.
Thank you for your beautifully put comments
I thank you for so much for your very inspiring message.
If one is quiet and listens, nature will come to you.