In an interesting article about wheelchairs in wilderness, Erik Shultz talks about how folks with disabilities need and deserve access to wilderness. He makes interesting points. In Shultz’s view, disabled folks should be accorded special accommodations so they can access legal wilderness, such as improved trails and the right to use wheels.
This brings to mind a few questions. First, if you make an improved trail and use machinery, are you thus carrying civilization along with you? If I told any environmentalist that I like wilderness with improved trails and wheels, they’d think I was joking (or if they knew me well, they’d just think I was talking about Jeeping, minus the improved trails). More, if a robust paraplegic can travel the wilderness on wheels and improved trails, why shouldn’t an elderly and frail person tour that same wilderness on a gas powered 4-wheeler? For that matter, should a person who can’t walk because of a knee injury be allowed to tour legal Wilderness on their mountain bike?
Rhetorical games aside, the point Shultz brings home to me is that our concept of Wilderness appears to be more of a cultural construct than anything that exists apart from ourselves — even though most wilderness advocates like to claim the latter. Think about that next time you see a trail sign or a tent camp in the middle of your “wilderness” view.
My point? Making a god out of “wilderness” is a losing proposition. Better to work with concepts of conservation and stewardship, along with the verity that we humans can and will visit and thus change the wild places by whatever means necessary — including wheel chairs.