Outdoor enthusiasts say you are liable to meet Sierra Club members anywhere, if the country is wild enough. The Sierra Club is one of the oldest and largest American conservation societies, and its 54,000 members, in addition to protesting the building of dams that threaten wilderness areas, can generally be found backpacking, canoeing or otherwise exploring uninhabited parts of the continent. You encounter them trudging along the Appalachian Trail or portaging around falls in the Quetico-Superior Wilderness. If you happen to be in the Brooks Range in Alaska this summer, one of the wildest regions on earth, you can take it for granted that people you meet there—if you meet anyone—will be members.
It may be a little surprising to find the Sierra Club in the Reception Center of the Time and Life Building in New York as well. But it is there for this month, or at least its work is there, graphically presented in an exhibition, America's Great Wilderness: A heritage to preserve, jointly sponsored by the Sierra Club and Time Inc. The exhibition consists of photographs, slides, maps, displays and a film, all of which concentrate on wilderness wonderlands which have somehow been preserved in our industrialized society.
One panel of photographs deals with the redwood forests of California. The Sierra Club has been fighting for their survival since it was organized by John Muir in 1892. Much of the exhibition is focused on the Grand Canyon, with photographs of rapids so violent they seem to be exploding. All such displays will attract people with some prior interest in conservation. But the centerpiece of the exhibition is for everyone. This is a film by Martin Litton showing a Sierra Club boat trip down the Colorado, with the little double-ended row-boats careening down the rapids, inches away from rock walls and going up, over and through the immense standing waves.
What the exhibition of the Sierra Club and Time Inc. principally communicates is a sense of the treasure that the United States still possesses in its remaining wilderness. The Sierra Club holds that its primary task is to show people the nature of wilderness wonders that may be threatened in the future. "The Sierra Club," says its director, David Brower, "has no better purpose than to let people know in time."
A lot of people, even those deeply involved in the conservation movement, disagree with the club's inflexible opposition to any and all modifications of the country's publicly-owned wild lands. But there can be little opposition to its work in dramatizing their scenic beauty. This issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED marks the 13th anniversary of this magazine. We carried a conservation story (on beavers) in No. 1, Vol. I, and we have a different kind of conservation story (on oysters) in this current issue. We have published many others between these dates, not only news reports on specific measures, such as the Wilderness Bill, but evocations—in words and pictures—of the reality of the forest, mountain, sea and desert world. No way has been found for Congress, at least up to now, to legislate human emotions or to order people to love the country. But a knowledge of the grandeur of the American wilderness certainly contributes to that desirable fervor—as well as to superlative vacations.