LAKE MILLS, Iowa – On this day 50 years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law. It created the National Wilderness Preservation System, and to this day, it protects more than 109 million acres across the country. All of that may not have been possible without the contribution of a man born in north Iowa.
Maybe you’ve never heard the name Wallace Stegner, after all, he only lived in Lake Mills, IA until he was about 5 years old.
But for historian Elaine Bergan, knowing Stegner was born in her neighborhood is a point of pride.
“We’re very proud of him having been born in Lake Mills.”
Stegner was an award-winning author, professor, and strong environmentalist.
In fact, he was so passionate about preserving the wilderness, that he wrote a famous letter on the importance of federal protection of wild places.
That letter, written in 1960, was used to introduce the Wilderness Act.
Bergan believes the Lake Mills native would be very proud of the preserved prairie lands at the Norwegian-American Monument, located just east of town.
“The Norwegian-American Monument stands in the midst of wild flowers and prairie grasses, and has stood there for a number of years now,” explains Bergan.
Preservation’s, like this can be found all around north Iowa and southern Minnesota, including the Lime Creek Nature Center.
Todd Von Ehwegen is a Conservation Education Manager, he explains that protecting wild environments is important to boost the economy and help keep water and air clean.
“It’s one of the greatest conservation laws ever passed in the United States.It’s protected 110 million acres of wilderness,” he says.
But, he believes more needs to be done to keep wilderness areas protected.
“We need to be proactive and make sure that we set aside these priceless, precious areas for the future and for future generations,” adds Von Ehwegen.
We did check, and Wallace Stegner does have family living in the Lake Mills area.
Stegner passed away at the age of 84 due to a car accident.