Every wild place has a story of the people who saved the “green places on the map” as my dear friend Brock Evans likes to remind people. As 2015 draws to its end, I’m contemplating the many protected places I was fortunate to visit in these last six months of wandering.

Who saved them? Who protects them now?  What can my role be as the guest dropping in to be inspired by the  likes of the tropical bird oasis of South Fork Cave Creek in the Chiricahua Wilderness?

On this morning where fresh, deep snow beckons all skiers into the mountains here in Missoula where I’ve returned for the holidays, I thought I’d start out right with a nod to all the wild places, their wild inhabitants and the people who care so deeply and passionately that they continue to give and give on behalf of nature, for as the Lorax of Dr Seuss reminds us, “I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues!”

Looking up redwoods
Ancient redwoods soar to the sky—“I speak for the trees…” said the Lorax, and so they did–the people who saved and are saving the last of our most magnificent redwood forests.

I’ve assembled a few photos with captions that at least give an indication of how, when or why they were saved. They are the stories of of wild places from my journeys of more than 6000 miles, from Montana to the west coast of Oregon, down the coast of California to Arizona and to New Mexico and then points eastward with Sandra through Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland; and in other zigzags in Utah and Colorado too.

In all places, I saw something of the wild.  Even if unfamiliar in ecology,  the kingfishers that often showed up brought me home to each new place. Through their celebratory rattling calls, they link one river to another, one mountain to the next, and prairie to a prairie with a stream coursing through the middle. In their flight, they weave this broken world, repairing the frayed edges and reminding us of the fragile precious gift of freshwater. Oh it would be a thirsty world without water and wilds!

Belted Kingfisher female, Morro Bay
Belted Kingfisher, Morro Bay State Park, California

A female belted kingfisher reigns over Morro Bay State Park, California. I watched her fly from ship mast to ship mast, a reminder of the serendipitous ways we as people can help and not harm nature. Who has landed on your roof today? Embrace that bird and your home or boat as habitat!

South Fork Cave Creek
Chiricahua Wilderness, New Mexico- South Fork Cave Creek

Here’s to the founders of the 1964 Wilderness Act that designated this critical sky island haven for birds and wildlife close to Mexico–the Chiricahua Wilderness on the Coronado National Forest, also part of the last refuge of the Apache tribe who courageously defended their homeland against the odds.  Here I am on South Fork of Cave Creek, home to elegant trogons and sycamore trees. Right after this photo (taken by Steve Loken), I saw a bobcat!

Natchez Trace Parkway, TN

A delicate waterfall on the Natchez Trace Parkway in Tennessee gives melody to a complex, humid, deciduous forest that is part of a 444-mile-long parkway that “traces” the path first of bison, then tribes and settlers. It’s managed by the National Park Service, and was designated by Congress in 1938. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built most of the parkway during the Great Depression. Yes, this was a road, yet our parkways also connect and link important wild lands too.

Hells Canyon

Hells Canyon National Recreation Area (on the Wallowa Whitman National Forest) has a tremendous preservation story that continues today with the guardians of the ecosystem: the Hells Canyon Preservation Council.  Here, the Snake River flows through the deepest gorge in North America, defining the boundary of Oregon and Idaho. Saved from damming by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967 and designated an NRA by Congress in 1975, the story of Hells Canyon’s protection reminds us of the power of  individuals who care to change history.

Rainbow with pelicans-North Beach pt reyes
Point Reyes National Seashore, California

The conservation of 71,000 acres of prime seashore, elk habitat, forests and marshes was no accident. Today’s Point Reyes National Seashore could have been a maze of commercial development. To find out when the last grizzly bear was spotted at Point Reyes and a fascinating chronology of events and preservation, see this timeline.

Mt Nebo State Park, Arkansas
Mt. Nebo State Park, Arkansas

Sandra and I drove up an impressively steep entry road to camp on the top of Mt Nebo, a state park preserved in 1933 that integrates Arkansas’ forests on a lonely summit with Civilian Conservation Corps’ impressive rock work you can see today in its pavilions and trails. Here’s to all those green areas on the map that are state parks and to the people who worked and still work today for their protection.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park Entry

I had to include the park that shaped my love of interpretation, Chaco Culture National Historic Park – the center of the ancient Pueblo world. While “protected” in some ways, oil and gas development threatens the integrity of its dark skies, complex culture and wildlife. Speak up via the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.

Great Smokies-AT
Appalachian Trail in Great Smokies National Park

Here I am on the 2, 185-mile-long  Appalachian Trail (photo in Great Smokies National Park). This is my end of year chance to thank the one individual who has made the greatest difference in my life and for the Trail-my father Dave Richie. He championed establishing a permanent protected corridor and succeeded through his quiet leadership and ability to empower volunteers on every stretch of the Trail.

Tomorrow, winter solstice December 20th, marks the day my dad died in 2002 of cancer at age 70. His legacy lives on and in 2012 he was inducted into the Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame. I owe so much of my own quest to make a difference and love of birds, waterfalls and wilds to my Dad. You can read about his A.T. legacy here (Wash. Post) and here (NY Times).

Thanks, Dad. I love you.