On August 2nd, Carbondale's Wilderness Workshop, in collaboration with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) and the U.S. Forest Service, threw the Maroon Bells Birthday Bash at the base of Aspen Highlands. Curbed Ski attended the party, and along with the live music, dancing, free doughnuts and Maroon Bells-shaped birthday cake, there were games (many involving poop; more on that below), hunky rangers wielding axes, beer, more beer, face-painting, and lots of blissed-out faces (granted, some of that may have been attributable to Aspen's pot dispensaries). Read on for the (literally) dirty details.
In September of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act after eight years and nearly sixty drafts. The landmark conservation bill was the brainchild of The Wilderness Society's Howard Zahniser, who was also responsible for creating the National Wilderness Preservation System. Under the Act, Congress and U.S. citizens can designate national wilderness areas (considered the highest form of national land protection). In the 50 years since its inception, the Wilderness Act has ensured that 109 million acres (and counting) remain free of roads, vehicles, permanent structures, logging, and mining. All this so nature lovers and future generations can enjoy that land for low-impact recreational pursuits like "hiking, camping, fishing, and backpacking."
The Bells Bash celebrated the 181,602-acre Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness as one of the first dedicated areas under the Wilderness Act. The mostly volunteer-run party was both a celebration of 50 years of epic outdoor adventures, and a way to educate and encourage the public to look to the future. The popularity of the Bells, due in part to their close proximity to Aspen, means that the region sees thousands of tourists every summer, and with that comes the inevitable environmental impact.
Nearly 2,000 locals, visitors, and their dogs showed up to honor the Bells. Carbondale's Roaring Fork Brewery shared a tent with the folks from Highlands Ale House, who were serving up brisket and falafel sandwiches. At the base of Exhibition Lift, a tent housing various conservation groups provided literature, freebies, and statistics on regional wilderness areas.
Over at the music stage, a roster of bands- including Paper Bird, Halden Wofford and the Hi*Beams, and the Shook Twins got the crowd grooving, in between a keynote address by noted wilderness author Rick Bass- and the serving of birthday cake for all.
Crowds flocked to the Center for Outdoor Ethics booth- their "How to Poop in the Woods" interactive display was a big hit with the kids, despite it being aimed, if you will, at adults. Along with the highly entertaining step-by-step posters, participants had the opportunity to practice their outdoor toilette with the aid of a bucket of dirt, a trowel, and a pile of plant debris. Fun!
Equally popular (more so with the grown-ups) was cathole, "a game of deft defecation." This witty adaptation of "cornhole" involved the chucking of plastic turds into the opposing teams buckets to score points. If it seems like the Bells Bash was more about bathroom humor, just remember that Kathleen Meyers' How to Shit in the Woods has been a longtime bestseller for a reason. Outdoor recreationists live for this, er, stuff.
The crosscut saw demos put on by the U.S. Forest Service were fascinating (in keeping with Wilderness Act ethics, only hand tools are permitted in protected areas, and most of the saws are over 100 years old). There were also campfire demos, and gorgeous, Wilderness Act logo-branded cross-cuts, made to order (Curbed Ski is thinking, "cool cheese board.").
A proverbial great time was had by all. How often do like-minded folk get to gather under sunny skies to celebrate the progressive thinking of a handful of conservationists, amidst a backdrop that's a direct result of those efforts? Judging by the popularity of certain activities, today's youth will grow up to be overly reliant upon technology, but adept at crapping in the woods. More important, those rugrats tossing turds, hula-hooping, and hugging Smokey the Bear will become adults who understand the need to protect the wild places.