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On Saturday, people will have a rare chance to see designated wilderness islands in Tamarac

Fifty years ago today, Congress signed the National Wilderness Act, preserving millions of acres of wilderness throughout the United States. Just over 2,000 of the 43,000 acres in Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge are a part of that designation.

“I would encourage people to experience the character of wilderness, take the time to do that. It’s very rejuvenating,” said Tamarac Ranger Kelly Blackledge.

The Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge has two designated wilderness areas – 2,000 acres in the northwest corner of the refuge and 65 acres on islands in Tamarac Lake.

To honor the anniversary celebration, Tamarac has a special weekend event and then several more events planned for Oct. 4, the refuge’s annual Fall Festival.

Saturday’s Wilderness Kayak Cruise, which starts at 10 a.m., is a trip to a piece of designated wilderness on the refuge, an island in Tamarac Lake.

“There aren’t many opportunities because the wilderness on the refuge is hard to access,” Blackledge said of acres designated under the Wilderness Act. “This is just an opportunity to access an actual designated wilderness spot on the refuge.”

During the kayak adventure, a refuge ranger will paddle with participants and explore the wilderness islands of Tamarac Lake. The ranger will talk about what “designated” wilderness is and what does it mean for people and wildlife?

Meet at the North Tamarac access with your canoe or kayak for this adventure. Life jackets are required.

Fall Festival, Oct. 4

The Wilderness Act celebration will continue on into October with Tamarac’s annual Fall Festival.

“This is something we’re highlighting for our Fall Festival, ‘Wolves in Wilderness,’ so we’re really highlighting the wilderness on the refuge and the 50th anniversary as well,” Blackledge said.

On Saturday, Oct. 4, the refuge will offer wilderness experience guided tours.

Participants will take a bus trip out to a wilderness spot on the refuge where they will have some activities that will “help them connect to those wild places in nature.”

The International Wolf Center will also be present to provide informational activities and presentations.

Tamarac staff will also talk about the restrictions on caring for wilderness-designated land and not being able to use any motorized tools on the land.

Also at the Fall Festival, there will be food, a silent auction, crafts, kid’s games and photographs from the annual photo contest on display.

“It’s a full day of free activities for the whole family,” Blackledge said.

Wilderness Fellow

Because of the Wilderness Act anniversary, several Wilderness Fellows have been hired to travel to different wilderness areas around the United States. One stop will be at Tamarac.

“They will be doing some work in the wilderness area as well as assisting us with outreach on wilderness,” Blackledge said.

When Congress signed the Wilderness Act of 1964 on Sept. 3, 9.1 million acres were preserved. Over the next 50 years, more than 100 million acres were added to the National Wilderness Preservation System, which was created under the act.

Before the Wilderness Act was passed, supporters worried about changes being made to the nation’s wild lands, like roads, hotels and visitor centers being built to encourage tourism. Roads for logging and dams for energy production were also infiltrating the land.

They recognized the need to preserve the lands and saw the benefit of the undeveloped, wild land.

It took nine years to pass the Wilderness Act.

Land managers however, have lacked a consistent definition of “wilderness character” and the means for measuring its loss or preservation and assessing the impact of stewardship.

Destruction and fragmentation of wildlife habitat and natural areas due to development, non-native plant and animal species, and global climate change, all threaten the National Wilderness Preservation System, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

So in 2008, a Wilderness Fellows Initiative was created to “give wilderness advocates and young professionals an opportunity to work with agency staff. The goal of the program is to have fellows identify a set of locally relevant measures that can be used to evaluate and document the attributes of a wilderness that contribute to its wilderness character,” according to the USFWS.

Fellows like Morgan Gantz – who is one of 11 nationwide – were hired to study wilderness areas, like those in Tamarac Refuge. They will make assessments for wilderness areas, provide support for local staff and more.

Gantz is serving in both Tamarac and Rice Lake refuges. According to the USFWS, at each, she collects and compiles data to address special qualities of each wilderness.

Her gathered information will then be inputted into a national database to will help with future management practices.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.