September 3, 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act in a Rose Garden ceremony, saying:
This is a very happy and historic occasion for all who love the great American outdoors, and that, needless to say, includes me. The two bills that I am signing this morning are in the highest tradition of our heritage as conservators as well as users of America's bountiful natural endowments
The wilderness bill preserves for our posterity, for all time to come, 9 million acres of this vast continent in their original and unchanging beauty and wonder.
The land and water conservation bill assures our growing population that we will begin, as of this day, to acquire on a pay-as-you-go basis the outdoor recreation lands that tomorrow's Americans will require.
I believe the significance of this occasion goes far beyond these bills alone. In this century, Americans have wisely and have courageously kept a faithful trust to the conservation of our natural resources and beauty. But the long strides forward have tended to come in periods of concerted effort.
I think it is significant that these steps have broad support not just from the Democratic Party, but the Republican Party, both parties in the Congress. For example, the wilderness bill has been before the Congress since 1957, but it passed this year 73 to 12 in the Senate, and 373 to 1 in the House. So it seems to me that this reflects a new and a strong national consensus to look ahead, and, more than that, to plan ahead; better still, to move ahead.
- Building on that first 9,140,000 acres of statutory wilderness, Congress has since passed laws that bring our National Wilderness Preservation System to 109,511,966 acres (as of 2/2014).
- Bills to add more than 2,000,000 acres, most also bipartisan, are new being actively processed by Congress and are sure to be signed later this year.
- Celebratory events of the 50th anniversary are being held all year, all across the country, including nature hikes, wilderness stewardship projects, activist workshops, conferences, and more.
- National events will include a special exhibition of the award-winners from a wilderness photography contest, to open at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History on the Mall in Washington in early September and a lobby week for activists working on the legislation nearing final approval in Congress.
- The celebratory year will culminate with the National Wilderness Conference in Albuquerque October 15-19. Learn more and register at www.wilderness50th.org.