Q1. What is the Wilderness Festival? Is this the first one? How did the idea come about?
Last October, the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources sponsored about 15 students traveling to the National Wilderness Conference in Albuquerque. This four day event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the National Wilderness Act was attended by over 1200 activists, private and government professionals, outdoor industry representatives, and academics.
The conference provided an excellent opportunity for both networking and intellectual exploration on the topic of our public lands. An exceptionally resounding keynote speech by Chris Barns from the BLM said, paraphrased, that if we don’t bring something back to our own communities from this conference, then we did not attend. One of our student-members, Kayla Matlock, initially came up with the idea of holding our own event here to both celebrate and analyze wilderness in Wyoming.
We seek, through the UW Wilderness Festival, to facilitate a statewide discussion among concerned citizens and wilderness stewards about the future of wilderness, our most pristine public lands, while celebrating wilderness in Wyoming and the greater Rocky Mountain region.
Q2. What is the purpose for the festival and what are some of the goals that you and those involved with organizing the event have?
While we primarily want to impact and facilitate the discussion on the topic of wilderness, we also like to provide fun opportunities for our community to gather. We believe that this strengthens both the community and people’s personal concept of and relationship with wilderness.
Ultimately, we would love to see this event become an annual festival to provide a sustaining forum for discussions regarding our interactions with public lands while fostering this community we love. As we are a student club, and therefore have a high turnover rate, we just hope that this event is inspires next year’s leadership to hold a similar event!
Q3. This festival is unique because it has 4 different events, a film festival, a panel discussion, a music festival and an outdoor trip. What were you looking for in terms of films, panel members, activities and events? What do you hope people learn as they participate in these events?
We specifically wanted the films to both highlight the beauty of wilderness in the west while discussing some of the controversies surrounding wilderness designation.
“Shoshone Wild” from the Wyoming Wilderness Association and “Common Ground” from the Montana Wilderness Association both discuss how people came together from different political persuasions. Last fall, I noticed a very cool film produced by the Montana Wilderness Association called “Land of No Use“, a collaborative effort between local professional skiers, filmmakers, musicians, and advocates to capture some of the incredible backcountry skiing opportunities Montana has to offer within their wilderness areas.
We decided this would be a fantastic headline film to round out other films focused on wilderness. Fortunately, we have filmmaker Henry Worobec joining us on Wednesday to discuss both the filming process and how he conceptualizes his relationship with wilderness.
For our panel discussion, we reached out to experts in the field of wilderness. We tried to compile a diverse list of people, allowing for differing but complimentary opinions to both allow for intelligent debate, but minimize any chance of contention where a panel member feels singled out. I think our panel has a good mix of outdoorsy folks, activists, and academics who can both speak passionately and connect with our community.
We modeled our Friday night event, the music festival, off of the Wilderness Conference’s “Get Wild” festival, a blowing-off-steam concert to end the week of attending talks. This format fits well with our event too, as spring is rapidly approaching after a long winter of school work here in Laramie, and music always catalyzes community and provides a fun release of stress.
Fundamentally, however, we think that in order for people to care about an issue, they must develop a connection with it. For wilderness, that means getting folks outside, disconnected from the daily grind of computers and away from the cell phone leash, and into some of the incredible natural areas that we in the west are especially lucky to have.
It’s one thing to sit in a lecture hall viewing films or listening to people wax poetic, but to actually go out and explore and experience life — that’s what we hope to inspire. This creates a feedback loop where people receive the benefits of wilderness recreation, and in turn feel passionate enough to fight to preserve these areas for future generations’ use and enjoyment.
Q4. Are all of the events free and open to the public? Which one do you think will be the most popular?
Correct, all events are free and open to the public! I think Friday’s music festival will be the most attended, as it is a party in a college town. We are also providing craft beer at Friday’s event for a small donation to the club, which always improves popularity. Personally, I am most excited to see what sort of discussion arrises from our panel series. I think the film series will be a great event as well, and am excited to hear some more background information from Mr. Worobec about “Land of No Use”.
Additionally to being free, we have actually collected numerous donations from both our local community businesses and the outdoor recreation industry at large, which will be raffled off as door prizes on Friday. These tickets are also free and each person gets one per night attended. We hope this encourages people to attend all 3 nights to increase their odds. Some of our grand prizes include 4 day tickets at Snowy Range Ski Area, a gift basket from Big Hollow, our local Coop, including a yearmembership, a Topo Designs backpack, and a film package from Teton Gravity Research.
Q5. Where can we go for more information?
Q6. And if you could give me a little bit of background about you, where you’re from, and your participation in the ENR Club.
I’m a Wyoming native, born and raised in Story, Wyoming to a ranching and conservation family. I’m graduating this May with a degree in Environment and Natural Resources and International Studies, and have been involved with the ENR Club for the past 2 years, as Secretary and President, respectively.
Thanks for the interview Jackson and now I ask the rest of you…will we see YOU at the Wilderness Festival? If you see us around be sure to say “hi!”