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Idaho Wilderness Area Getting Improvements on Anniversary of the Wilderness Act

It's the 50th birthday for the Wilderness Act, and Bruneau Canyon is getting a present


If you take the journey to the Bruneau Canyon overlook, 65 miles southeast of Boise, you'll see a parking lot with an interpretive sign and a view that Heather Tiel-Nelson, of the Bureau of Land Management, said can't be captured by a camera.

With no toilets or running water, the overlook is as spartan as its view, showing off the Bruneau-Jarbidge Rivers Wilderness, which rests within one of the BLM's most recent wilderness designations: the Owyhee Canyonlands, established by President Barack Obama in 2009.

On Sept. 16, the BLM unveiled plans for improvements to the site, in celebration of the Wilderness Act's 50th anniversary. According to the BLM, improvements will include enhanced trail access to the canyon rim, more educational interpretation signs, new restroom facilities and improved safety features--including 200 feet of railing that will let visitors walk right up to the rim and peer across the 1,300-foot canyon.

"It's a site that needed this kind of attention," Tiel-Nelson said. "It's a fairly accessible site to be able to look at wilderness, to be able to take it all in, to be able to drive and park here to do that."

Tiel-Nelson said she's excited these improvements align with the anniversary of the act, signed into law on Sept. 3, 1964.

The act began with Howard Zahniser in 1955--almost a decade before it became law. The leader of the Wilderness Society at the time, Zahniser grew tired of the feds' attempts to keep wilderness areas wild.

"Let us be done with a wilderness preservation program made up of a sequence of overlapping emergencies, threats and defense campaigns," he said.

After 66 revisions and 18 hearings, President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill into law, putting more than 9 million acres into the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Today, the Wilderness Act protects almost 110 million acres of land in all but six states, including more than 4.5 million acres in Idaho--4 percent of the state's total area.

To commemorate the act, a coalition called the 50th Anniversary National Wilderness Planning Team, or Wilderness50, has been formed and met in Washington, D.C. Sept. 15-17 to discuss the next 50 years of wilderness protection and meet with congressional leaders. A larger National Wilderness Conference is set for Oct. 15-19 in Albuquerque, N.M., with members including the National Park Service, the University of Idaho, the University of Montana, the Sierra Club, BLM and the International League of Conservation Writers.