A lifelong devotee and caretaker of public lands, Rose Chilcoat shares insights with all kindred spirits who desire to put their passion to action

Rose Chilcoat in a wildflower patch in La Sal Mountains, Utah
Chilcoat among a field of wildflowers in the La Sal Mountains in Utah. Photo courtesy of Rose Chilcoat.

Rose Chilcoat’s love for wilderness stems from a seed planted in childhood that has flourished into a lifelong passion. This led to a career working for the National Park Service in Alaska before moving with her family to Durango seeking a better work-life balance.

Settled in Durango, she took a leadership role with Great Old Broads For Wilderness, a local conservation group where she continues her advocacy for public lands. She is also a board member of Torrey House Press.

As public lands face increasing uncertainty, and especially looming threats of development, those of us who love these spaces can often feel helpless or confused about how we can help to protect them. Chilcoat’s lifelong dedication to defending the wilderness with boots on the ground gives her a unique outlook on the future of public lands and what we can all do to be better stewards of the land —  “to speak for the trees,” in her words.

Rose Chilcoat near Navajo Mountain
Deep in the canyons south of Navajo Mountain in Arizona. Photo courtesy of Rose Chilcoat.
First of all, what is a steward of the land? 

Chilcoat: “Simply, a steward is a person whose job is to manage or look after the land and property of another person. So, when we talk about stewardship of public lands we are talking about how we can look after and take care of the lands that belong to all of us. I’d take that one further and suggest it is how we can take care of the earth for all living creatures.”

And as (human) stewards, what is our greater role in protecting public lands and their future?

Chilcoat: “With rights come responsibility. These lands are ours and everyone’s to use and enjoy. But no one has the right to destroy them or to take away another’s enjoyment of them. There is a learning curve involved and humility. When it comes to wild nature, it can’t be all about us anymore. It is about ecosystems and living things … plants, animals, birds, insects, water, soils. We humans are but one species. We have to become aware and be aware of how our presence and our choices impact a place. We have to stop living as if we are the only species on the planet that matter.”

It certainly is a daunting and humbling responsibility when framed this way, and yet Chilcoat’s tips for taking action and stepping up as a steward are refreshingly user-friendly,  and can involve the entire family. Best of all, they are fun, which helps ensure you want to continue taking action. 

Stopped along the banks of the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park. Photo courtesy of Rose Chilcoat.
Here are some of Chilcoat’s top tips to put into action on your next adventure and even when you are at home:

• “Wilderness is a home — treat it with respect — don’t write on the walls, tear up the flooring, break the furniture, put holes in the walls — you  are a guest, behave like one.”

• In regards to trash and waste: Pack it in AND out, and more — be a caretaker. Show up to help with the unglamorous needs. Volunteer for clean ups, trail maintenance, signing, invasive plant eradication, educate other users and monitoring use/impacts.”

• “Wilderness tithing — giving back, not just taking — taking care of a place you love with your time and money.”

• “Hold the agencies accountable. Online activism is not enough. Educate yourself first. Then call, write, comment, protest, talk to your friends and neighbors. Be vocal. Insist on what is right.”

• “Take a child with you — plant seeds for future generations to grow into wilderness lovers and stewards.”

• “Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed. Pick one or two things to focus on and keep working on that. Take time out to restore yourself and keep some balance.”

Rose Chilcoat in wildflowers at the base of Engineer Mountain in Southwest Colorado
Relaxing at the base of Engineer Mountain in Southwest Colorado. Photo courtesy of Rose Chilcoat.
A Ripple Effect

Whether a small or large step, Chilcoat emphasizes that each action we choose to carry forward can have a positive ripple effect of protecting our wild places and the environment as a whole. 

Finally, as she so eloquently explains, “Sparking awe and wonder isn’t enough. Each of us needs to own our own responsibility to protect that which inspires and awes us. We need to find tangible, actionable things we can do locally, nationally and globally that will make a difference. We need our voices to be heard and our votes to matter. Sitting on the sidelines watching others defend the environment will not work. There needs to be a groundswell of insistence that we protect mother earth.”

Morgan Sjogren runs wild with words and lives outside on the Colorado Plateau. Her Four Corners-inspired writing is focused on public lands, human-powered adventure and exploration, (including her first book “The Best Bears Ears National Monument Hikes”). Her next book, “Outlandish: Fuel Your Epic” is out now, and “The Best Grand Staircase National Monument Hikes” unleashes into the wild this summer.