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Landscaping and the preservation of natural wilderness are two things often at a crossroads. When it comes to wilderness preservation — and making natural parks ameliorative to visitors — many people end up misunderstanding the intent of the 1964 Wilderness Act, which says in part that wilderness will be “untrammeled.” According to Carol Treadwell, who acts as the executive director of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation, untrammeled does not mean “untrampled” as many assume.

“People think that means you can’t have trails. What it means, what (Act Author) Howard Zahniser means, is it is uncontrolled. It’s a wilderness thing to let wilderness be wild, to let nature take its course,” she explained in an interview with the Missoulian.

The impact of people misunderstanding that line can be seen throughout several state parks and wilderness areas. It often becomes difficult for people to navigate through these areas as the paths quickly become overgrown by vegetation. In many cases, gravel pathways or landscaping stones are a useful solution because they do not impede wildlife, yet gravel forms a clear path for visitors to follow while also keeping vegetation on trails limited.

Wilderness Advocate Bob Marshall was, during his lifetime, an important voice for the establishment of untrammeled wilderness, and ensuring that wilderness, while it could be “trampled,” was not to be “confined.” At the time, many people were arguing that land should be used for the greatest good of the most people. Marshall explained that ecological preservation should not follow this rule, and that many important things in human society do not.

In refuting this idea, he succinctly explained that, following the logical pathway, it would mean that, “The Library of Congress would become a national hot dog stand, and the new Supreme Court building would be converted into a gigantic garage.” Even though Marshall only lived until he was 38, during his appointment as Chief of the Forest Service’s division of recreation and lands, he helped to protect over 5 million acres of land from both development and logging.

In truth, the Wilderness Act is a balancing act of sorts, encouraging compromise between the desires of communities, and the preservation of natural environments.

“We can’t just sit back and not do anything with the landscape. Humans have impacts. And sometimes we have to cross over to gardener-type activities,” points out Rocky Mountain District Manager, Mike Munoz. Many garden landscaping-type activities, for example, involve unleashing controlled fires that allow areas to go through natural cycles, while helping to prevent the runaway-type fires that can destroy homes and farmland. Some landscaping designs are necessary to implement in this type of situation.

Do you prefer using gravel pathways when you visit preserved wilderness areas? Let us know in the comments.