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Monday, April 21, 2014
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Pilgrim’s Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier

By Guest Author, Verner Wilson, III, Yale F&ES '15

The last speaker in the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy’s 2014 Climate and Energy Bookshelf speaker series is a fellow Alaskan. I have been reading journalist and author Tom Kizzia’s stories since I first started following the news as a teenager. As a reporter for Alaska’s largest newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News, Mr. Kizzia has been on the front lines of our state’s most pressing issues for years.

His recent book Pilgrim’s Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier, one of Amazon’s best books of 2013, details the strange (but true) journey of the self-proclaimed Papa Pilgrim, who established his wife and fifteen children in America’s largest national park in south-central Alaska. The Wrangell St.-Elias Park, at over thirteen million acres, is larger than the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Jersey combined. When the Pilgrims moved there in 2002, they challenged the National Park Service’s authority to conserve the nation’s protected areas, and their attempts to bulldoze thirteen miles of road and to develop their property inside the park touched off one of the most-visible controversies between environmentalists, government officials and local land-rights advocates in a generation.

The Pilgrims story will be the focus of Mr. Kizzia’s lecture "Frontier Gothic: Transcendentalists, Puritans, and Pilgrims in Alaska" on Wednesday April 23 at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (also available for live stream at http://new.livestream.com/YaleFES/frontier-gothic). If you are interested in battles over national parks or protected areas, public land vs. private property disputes, religious connections to the wilderness, or Alaska’s many environmental debates,  this talk is for you.

Today Wrangell St. Elias Park, with about 25 percent of its land is covered by glaciers, is a hotbed not only for the land conflicts between the federal government and the region’s sparse inhabitants, but also a nexus between climate change and its impacts on wilderness areas.  The National Park Service and other organizations, such as the National Parks Conservation Association, are monitoring how climate change is impacting the area’s glaciers and weather.  They claim melting glaciers and ice within the region are uncovering many Native American and former mining industry artifacts that were left after the area’s early 1900s copper mining rush, artifacts that archaeologists are trying to preserve amidst global change. I look forward to seeing everyone at the lecture.

Verner Wilson, III, is a first-year Master of Environmental Management candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He is originally from Bristol Bay, Alaska, and obtained a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies in 2008 from Brown University. He previously worked for the World Wildlife Fund, as well as a coalition of Alaska Native tribes, on issues related to sustainable wild salmon fisheries, environmental justice, mining, oil and gas, and climate change.

Posted in: Environmental Law & Governance

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