National Park Service Celebrates Wilderness Anniversary

Say the words "federal wilderness area" and most people would probably think of some national park out west or a giant reserve in Alaska.

But two of the coast's barrier islands, Horn and Petit Bois, are part of that wilderness.

The Park Service is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the "Wilderness Act".

The unbridled beauty of Horn Island reflects the federal definition of wilderness. The law says wilderness is recognized as "areas where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain".

Hank Snyder is chief of resource management for the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

"The green space that we have available to us today is ever shrinking. Population is growing. The places where people can in fact go to nature are getting smaller and smaller. And these are special places hat have been set aside for just their raw, natural value," Snyder explained.

This special place was set aside for federal protection in 1978. And while wilderness designation does protect the fragile island from development, it doesn't prevent man from enjoying it.

"It's here. It's close to a lot of people. It's undeveloped. It's untouched by man. People can come out here and get away from everything, the sights and sounds of modern society. And believe me, a lot of people are searching for that right now," said park superintendent, Jerry Eubanks.

About 106 million acres in America are designated as federal wilderness. That's about five percent of the entire United States or an area slightly larger than the state of California. And more than half of that wilderness, 54 percent, is located in the state of Alaska.

Carelessness can taint the inherent beauty of this wilderness getaway. Litter is among the ongoing problems at the barrier islands.

"Probably our greatest challenge here is educating people to be sensitive to this wilderness. It's not a city park. It's a wilderness. And if you bring it in, take it out. Treat it as the wild," said Snyder.

Wilderness protection will help ensure that future visitors and generations will enjoy this same sort of island experience.

Horn Island remains a popular getaway for both locals and tourists. Nearly 30 thousand people visited the barrier island last year.