It was California in the '70s and revolution was in the air. As science was becoming more specialized, a group of students at the University of California, Berkeley, was urging a movement in the other direction. They asked their professors to talk to them about whole systems and a major in Conservation of Natural Resources, the forerunner of Environmental Studies, was born. Naropa Professor Anne Parker was amongst this group of, as she describes it, "unshaven hippie undergraduates."
Eager to start contributing and sharing a love for Yosemite National Park, the students saw an opportunity to engage in research and have some fun at the same time. Spearheaded by student Dan Holmes, the team proposed an ambitious project in which they would walk every mile of every trail in the 1,190-square-mile park, mapping erosion from human use, they would also walk around every lake, mapping campsites, fire rings, trampling, and other erosion. The park accepted their proposal, and the Wilderness Working Group started its four-year project in 1972.
Photo: Joseph Holmes
Anne recalls, "We just really loved the park and thought it was time to protect it, plus we got to spend the whole summer hiking the Range of Light." This September, in the midst of devastating fires, the group gathered back at Yosemite to celebrate its 40th anniversary and take part in an oral history project that will become part of the Park's archive. Anne was most impressed by the commitment and achievements of her classmates. "It seems as if the inspiration of Yosemite had nurtured them and somehow launched them back into the world to tirelessly serve and work for the living earth, buoyed by such deep love of the land and each other."
Anne is particularly grateful for the self-empowerment they felt in being trusted to do this important work as undergraduates. The work was particularly empowering to the women in the group. "The women were powerful hikers and mountaineers, and had the same skills as the men. But as we left that, the women went out there and had to be the first of everything. ...We left there feeling egalitarian and empowered, but then had to go carve the paths we wanted to take."
After their first summer mapping trails and lakes, the park asked the students to devise and test a wilderness permit system, the first of its kind. Students would spend two weeks at desks giving out permits, and two weeks in the field, seeing if people actually had permits. It was another summer of adventure, not only initiating the permit system that is still in place today, but also creating a system of live feedback in which rangers and volunteers are active on trails and able to give up-to-date tips and advice to hikers.
The group quickly fell back into cooperative patterns and teamwork when they met up again this September. "When we got to the campground it was as if no time had elapsed. We all knew how to do things very collectively and collaboratively. Food was happening without really being organized, people were helping each other, it was sort of seamless, it was the tribe."
Each person shared stories of their work and life, with Park historians recording the talks for the archive. "In those stories is the history of the environmental movement," Anne says. "When we graduated they said, 'We don't know what kind of jobs you're going to get. You're going to have to figure that out for yourselves, you're going to have to create the future.' And that's what we did. As students we created a new paradigm."
We're grateful that Professor Anne Parker ended up here at Naropa, sharing her talents with Environmental Studies students and contributing to the reinvigoration of Naropa's international offerings. She has also recently released a new book, Multi-Ethnic Interface in Eastern Nepal. Other members of her cohort have gone on to careers in the Parks Service, work with the Justice Department on landmark climate change cases, one has received a Nobel prize for collaboration around efforts to protect the ozone hole, and another, a famous photographer of National Parks, has been kind enough to share his work with Naropa Magazine readers for this article.