Don’t fence me in

“I categorically resent the trash talk on the street that Atlanta is ‘Marching through Georgia.’ We’re paving through Georgia.” –Jack MacAdam, Metro Sprawl, Inc. in “Worst of Jock Stewart”

“Did you know that only two percent of the land in the Lower 48 is protected under the designation of Wilderness while the overwhelming majority of our nation’s land is open to development and industrial uses?” — The Wilderness Society

When the Homestead Act was passed in 1862, a horde of people–ultimately some 1,465,346 of them–rushed into our untamed areas and began meeting the challenge of “proving up” their 160-acre parcels of land. Successful homesteaders got to keep their land by making improvements to the property.

The Homestead Act has been viewed as significant, enduring, ground-breaking legislation. Nebraska’s National Monument created by President Roosevelt in 1936, reminds us “of the hardships and the pioneer life through which the early settlers passed in the settlement, cultivation and civilization of the Great West.”

Almost 150 years after the passage of the Homestead Act, we’re still being brainwashed by two of its principles, ideas that, while historically valid, are long out of date: (1) Unused land = available land, (2) Improved land is better than improved land.

We enjoy the benefits of civilization: roads, city centers, factories, stores, schools, farms and comfortable houses. Yet, I cannot help but view “developers” with a jaundiced eye because they are so willing to prove-up everything that is as yet unpaved. Like a wild horse, the ground needs to be broken, or so they say.

We need to fix what has already been broken instead of breaking what doesn’t need to be fixed.

Those of us living in the still-rural Jackson County Georgia are watching the tidal wave known as Atlanta gobbling up the countryside in all directions. Here, sixty miles away, one can almost hear the hordes of homeowners, builders, road builders and other advocates of sprawl racing up Interstate 85 in our direction.

It’s too late now to fix the prove-up attitude in north Georgia, though, if I had my way, I would build a giant fence around Atlanta and mandate that everyone who is inside must stay inside. Those of us who don’t like being fenced in by buildings, fast-food restaurants and all the other clutter of the nearby metro area will gladly stay outside the fence without any mandates whatsoever.

The land, I think, is perfect as it is, and we cannot improve upon it. Today, when we meet the kinds of challenges that were noble as part of the Homestead Act, we do so with poor results from loss of animal habitats to the destruction of watersheds to the fouling of forests and wetlands that we–ultimately–need for our survival.

As I look at the smaller and smaller amount of land that has yet to be “improved,” I think of Margaret Murie’s words, “I hope that the United States of America is not so rich that she can afford to let these wildernesses pass by. Or so poor that she cannot afford to keep them.”

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Garden of Heaven” and “The Sun Singer,” adventure novels from which a portion of the sales is donated to Glacier National Park, Montana.

4 thoughts on “Don’t fence me in

  1. Beth

    Subdivisions, mini-malls, and fast food galore…these things are not only robbing us of natural areas, but are homogenizing the entire country. The beauty of our rich countrysides, majestic mountains, clean (?) waterways, and rugged forests are slowly being replaced by cookie-cutter “communities” that may leave wanderers uncertain as to whether they are in Colorado or Kentucky.

    I just want trees and flowers and a small bit of clear water.

    1. It’s odd to me how people who say they enjoy traveling to new places often go to the same old places once they get there. There seems to be a comfort in finding the same restaurants, grocery stores, and other retail places no matter where one travels. One might as well stay home. Trees, flowers and clear water certainly trump strip development.


  2. It’s much the same here out west too. The pressure on our wild and roadless lands increases daily from those who think they can make a quick buck from exploiting them and from the politicians that they own.

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