The National Forest Wilderness System, established by an Act of Congress in 1964, consists of 442 separate units in 38 states and Puerto Rico and totals more than 36 million acres. It includes vast expanses in Alaska that are accessible only by bush plane, as well as small parcels encompassing less than 500 acres that are tucked within the East Coast’s urban sprawl.
For close to 20 years, Rock Springs resident and retired Western Wyoming Community College chemistry professor Steve Brumbach has quietly pursued a quest that few, if any, other human beings have attempted: to visit, on foot, each of the National Forest Wilderness Areas in the United States. To date, Brumbach has visited 436 of them and has made a photographic record of every visit.
On Thursday, April 16 at 7 p.m., Brumbach will give a slideshow presentation of his wide-ranging journeys. This event will take place in Room 1302 at the Rock Springs campus and is free and open to the public.
“The goal of this presentation is, plain and simple, to inspire,” Brumbach said. “My hope is that people will go home and lace up their boots.”
Brumbach, a native of Pennsylvania, taught for eight years at Western Wyoming Community College as Assistant Professor of Chemistry before retiring in 2004. Before that, he spent 22 years conducting research in the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratory system.
Brumbach’s presentation will illustrate the sheer variety of ecosystems that have been incorporated into the National Forest Wilderness System.
“We will see everything from the brilliant fall colors of the Appalachians to the alligator-infested swamps of the Southeast, to the volcanic landscapes of the Northwest, to the sparse desert expanses of Arizona,” he said.
Brumbach also plans to emphasize the Alaskan wilderness areas, “places that most of us are not likely to see,” he said. His own visits to the 19 National Wilderness Areas in our northernmost state sometimes involved long, bumpy flights on bush airplanes.
“The pilots would land in a small lake or field, leave me off, and promise to come back a week or so later,” Brumbach recalled.
He will also show images from deep in the backcountry of three of his favorite wilderness areas—the Bridger, the Fitzpatrick, and the Popo Agie – all of them located here in Wyoming.
The very names of the national wilderness areas are suggestive of their diversity, Brumbach notes playfully.
“You can grab two friends and hike the Three Fools Trail in the Pasayten Wilderness in Washington,” he said. “Or you can look into God’s Pocket in the Jarbidge Wilderness in Nevada. You can wander among the Seven Devils in Hell’s Canyon Wilderness along the Idaho/Oregon border. If you are feeling confident, go hike the Superstition Wilderness in Arizona or Death Hollow, a canyon in the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness in Utah.”
All of these place-names, Brumbach added, will be identified in photo captions of his presentation.
As for the six wilderness areas Brumbach has not visited, they include a small island in Lake Huron, a couple of islands on a rugged stretch of the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania, and a jungle in Puerto Rico that is presently closed to all human contact.
“In my defense,” Brumbach said, “three of the remaining six were added just after Christmas. But that Puerto Rico one could be tricky.”