The political history of Alabama's three National Forest Wilderness Areas, told by a leading advocate.
The grassroots effort to preserve Alabama's Wilderness Areas spanned thirty years, from 1967 to 1997. The first battle, to establish the Sipsey Wilderness in the Bankhead National Forest, was the catalyst for reform of national policy regarding public land preserves in the eastern United States. It, and the later campaigns—to establish the Cheaha Wilderness, to enlarge the Sipsey, and to create the Dugger Mountain Wilderness—are classic tales of citizen activists overcoming the quagmire of federal bureaucracy and the intransigence of hostile politicians. Early political opposition to proposed designation or expansion of wilderness areas in Alabama was based on the belief that limiting development of these lands would negatively impact the state's powerful timber industry. In response to such opposition, serious environmental activism was born in Alabama.
Using newspaper reports, Congressional testimony, interviews, and his own recollections, John Randolph traces the development of Alabama's environmental movement from its beginnings with the establishment of The Alabama Conservancy in the late 1960s and early '70s to the preservation efforts of present-day activist groups, such as the Alabama Environmental Council, the Cahaba River Society, and the Alabama Wilderness Alliance.
The Battle for Alabama's Wilderness permits all of the players—pro and con—to speak for themselves, but the heroes—people like Mary Burks, Blanche Dean, Joab Thomas, and Pete Conroy—embody the vision, hope, and persistence required of those who succeed in their preservation efforts. Randolph's account is a testament to the power of grassroots citizen groups who are committed to a common cause and inspired by a shared ideal.