YES I bumped elbows with a current member of the President's Cabinet, but I'll get to that later...
In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson signed a monumental act that created land designated as wilderness, meaning no new construction, cars, roads, logging, mining, or any activity that would disturb the natural state in any way.
To date there are 109 million acres of land designated as wilderness, and more continue to be added. And these aren't state or national parks where you can stay in a lodge and drive in to your campsite. You have to hike in to get to it, and then be one of the only people around for miles.
To celebrate this occasion there was a huge conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico where everyone and everyone who is involved with and loves the outdoors and wilderness got together to not only revel in the majesty of these amazing lands, but how we can continue to preserve more land and keep what we do have in pristine condition.
I was fortunate enough to work with Girl Scouts to create an amazing patch program called Go Wild 50! for 6th-12th grade Girl Scouts to learn about the act, why wilderness is so important, and take that knowledge into their communities to educate others.
I was also invited to speak on the Youth Perspectives panel at the conference about the program we created, as well as my experiences in the wilderness and the efforts of Girl Scouts (nation-wide and locally) to get more girls outdoors and into the wilderness! But this conference was so much more than just the panel.
One of the things I was most excited for with this trip was I finally reached Silver on British Airways Executive Club, meaning I could use the flight lounges! There isn't one in Sacramento, but there is in Phoenix where I had a layover, and even though I only had about 30 minutes to spend there, it was a pretty nice 30 minutes!
Let me tell you being able to walk into these lounges is the coolest feeling in the world. It looks swanky, I feel swanky being in there, and there's free food and drinks! I wish I got to travel more so I could really take advantage of these, but at least my Silver status is good for a few years (and anyone flying with me gets to use them, too!).
In Albuquerque all the "youth" attending or speaking at the conference were staying at the Route 66 Hostel, an adorable place that was a great way to meet the others my age (the majority of conference goers were middle aged or above).
recommend staying here!
We had a summit just for these youth attendees where we got to network and hear from some really cool speakers including the two co-chairs of the whole event. There was a copy of the Wilderness Act for us all to sign as the next generation to carry it on, and we got free Osprey day packs! I used it the rest of the conference and LOVE it. Definitely a staple for all my future travel with enough room for my computer, the perfect carry-on size, and it zips up into a compact pouch when not in use. Thanks so much, Osprey!
That night was the opening ceremony full of excited people, corny skits, lots of singing hokey songs, and howling. Yes you read that right, howling. But I guess when you get a bunch of wilderness enthusiasts in a room what can you expect?
The next morning we had several speakers address the conference as a whole, one of which was Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior of the United States of America and former CEO of REI. She had a wonderful speech and when I ran out to use the restroom after her speech.
When I got the the door I noticed a stern looking woman in a suit standing outside, which should have been a warning for me. But all I thought was, "Huh, she must be waiting for someone," not thinking the fact that she was in a suit at a WILDERNESS conference with everyone in tshirts, Tevas, and cargo pants was out of place. As I entered the bathroom I turned and saw Secretary Jewell headed towards me and the exit! Had I had my wits about me I would have tried to talk to her and mention how much I liked her speech, like the other woman in the bathroom was doing as I walked in. But alas, I was too stunned and I'll have to suffice with the fact that I brushed elbows with a woman how brushes elbows with the President. That's right, I'm now to elbows away from the President. And it turns out that stern woman outside the bathroom was her body guard.
There were some more speakers, lunch and some discussions during lunch (outdoor business and why they are committed to helping preserve wilderness even if it doesn't turn out the most profits possible- super interesting to hear) and then it was time for my panel! It was being streamed live online and we were the first break out session of the conference. I didn't even know if anyone would show up! Turns out I had nothing to worry about because it was a full room filled with people eager to hear what youth had to say about getting more youth involved in not only conservation but outdoor activities. One member of the audience even suggested our conversation should have been a large panel presentation for the whole conference, and I can't say I disagree! The streaming didn't work, probably because it was the first being streamed and the bugs were being worked out, but it was still a great panel.
The rest of the time was spent meeting people, listing to other presentations, and staying up toolate in the hostel with the other youths, and having a blast! I hung out a lot with a group of students from the University of Montana, Missoula who where there volunteering, and met the President of the Sierra Club (yeah that Sierra Club, the national organization), and getting to spend a lovely evening with my two great-aunts who live in Albuquerque.
I had to leave the conference a few days early because I had to get back for work, but I'm so glad I went! I loved getting to talk about the difference my generation can make and seeing older generations excited about what we can do, instead of looking down on us and our digitization. I'm so inspired by the work of everyone there to help save the wilderness, and can't wait to go back for the 100th anniversary and see what we've accomplished.