“Jewel of Marathon County forests” offers miles of winter fun

This column originally appeared in the Feb. 15, 2017, issue of the Portage County Gazette.

Checking out the scenery at Nine Mile County Forest rec area

Is Wausau too big?

Of course not. The question seems ludicrous unless you ardently love even smaller cities like Stevens Point. 

But over a tasty wheat beer in downtown Wausau with a friend, prior to a Marathon County snowshoeing outing, the question took root and shaped my thoughts on another excellent regional attraction.  

On Google Earth, the Nine Mile County Forest Recreation Area looks worthy of a Presidential Award of Yuuuugeness and Economic Development.

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Ed Abbey and his Facebook Voice in the Wilderness

Click the photo to hear a short outtake on democracy from an Abbey talk.  From Eric Temple's Facebook page (see post).

Click the photo to hear a short outtake on democracy from an Abbey talk. From Eric Temple’s Facebook page (see post).

There’s no telling what Ed Abbey would think of a Facebook page in his name, but I was surprised and pleased tonight to run across a wonderful site in his honor, put together by filmmaker Eric Temple, creator of the documentary “Edward Abbey: Voice in the Wilderness.”

(Bonus coincidence: Temple’s web site has a highway sign in its masthead, so how could I not post a link to it?)

When we’re traveling down the Yellowstone Trail in 2016, it’s going to be a real pleasure to discuss Abbey’s “Polemic: Industrial Tourism and the National Parks,” a rant about roads in national parks, among other things.  It will also, of course, do the thing that good reading often does: provoke squeamishishness about the very actions we’re participating in.

To the extent that we are merely employees and dependents, we are helots or slaves ruled by an oligarchy of techno-military-industrial administrators. Never before in history have slaves been so well fed, well medicated and lavishly entertained, but we are slaves nevertheless. Our popular culture — television, rock music, home video, processed food, mechanical recreation, plastic architecture — is a culture of slaves.   Edward Abbey (link on picture)

Abbey was a caustic critic of exploitation of the natural world, but his polemic also recognized the difficulties and contradictions inherent in simply getting to and trying to enjoy that world.  We will, after all, need to burn fossil fuels to get where we’re going and back in two weeks, which is just the start of all the actions we should probably examine more critically.

The industrial tourism piece, in the classic memoir Desert Solitaire, will be a great way to remind students of the Words Are Roads Party of our big class question: how do we reconcile our desire to protect and enjoy nature with our need for economic development?

In the meantime, I have linked above and included a few words from a recorded address Abbey gave on democracy. I don’t agree with all of his ideas, as many people won’t, but there’s lots worth considering.  His thoughts seem particularly relevant at this time, when many on our home campus are considering our roles in a political economy that seems bent on controlling education in terribly destructive ways. If we could just find ol’ Cactus Ed’s grave, we might see him rolling over in it.