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Into the Outdoors: Would living in the days of Lewis & Clark be worth it

Published: Friday, April 13, 2012 2:20 a.m. CDT

Most often when I am driving in the car, especially for a long distance, my mind wanders to the past. I love to try and see the surrounding landscape through the eyes of Lewis and Clark. What did this place look like before Europeans came? How much wild game was there?

It is almost beyond my mind’s capability to see the surrounding area with endless interruption from mankind. Can you do it? Can you picture the countryside going on endlessly all the way to the Pacific Ocean without a road, telephone pole, cell tower and wind turbine?

As an outdoorsman, this thought is almost too amazing to handle. The total peace and quiet the evening would bring with the night sky. It would be a perfect canvas uninterrupted by the glare of lights. The wildlife! Oh, the wildlife. Think of the Illinois hills and valleys full of elk, deer, wolves and mountain lions. I almost shiver dreaming about it.

Just the other day, I was talking on the phone with an acquaintance and this very issue came up. We were actually talking about suburban sprawl and building. Then he said something that I have thought a lot about over the last week. He mentioned to me, “Either you love development and the economic prosperity it brings or you don’t.”

At first I kind of brushed it off. But after chewing on it for a while I asked myself the question, Does it have to be so absolute? Does it have to be one or the other? I also thought about the implications that this has on outdoorsmen.

First off, anyone that believes that development is going to stop lives in a bubble. As long as humans have roamed this planet, they have been building and perfecting that craft over millennia. It’s not going away. But how does that affect those who love to spend time outdoors?

Probably the most obvious answer is the impact development has on land prices. Very few folks who love to hunt are ever going to be able to purchase their own little acreage. Land prices are astronomical and will only get worse when the economy gets better.

I saw online the other day a 40-acre parcel in the path of development by a highway interchange that was priced at $29 million! Are you kidding me?

On the other hand, when urbanization pushes forward it usually brings about the creation of open spaces held as public land. Many times this public land is open to fishing, hunting and camping. These areas were held privately before and not open to the public, so in some ways, urban sprawl creates some opportunities for sportsmen that were not there previously.

I always view myself as leaning towards the fact that I was born a few hundred years too late. This is because I love to imagine roaming the wilderness like Daniel Boone. Then I think about some of the implications this would mean for me. What about the dentist?

I hate going to the dentist, but I hate pain even worse. The thought of removing a rotten tooth on my own and with some archaic practitioner almost makes me pass out. Modern medicine is definitely in my plus column.

I also imagine what my life would be like around here without the urban jungle around us. I do kind of like the fact that I can hop onto the interstate and in a matter of minutes be within distance of just about any retail store my heart desires. Try to imagine how your daily life would change without out the places you shop and receive services.

Modern development has made our lives easier than that of our ancestors. Teddy Roosevelt was truly an outdoorsman. He was also a person that understood that nature is a resource that is to be utilized be mankind. There has to be some middle ground that we can all compromise on. Things do not have to be so absolute like the gentleman on the phone said.

Why is this important? We are in the midst of a big election year. Land use is something that is discussed and debated from the highest office in the nation right down to our local municipalities. It is important, as people who love the outdoors, to understand the land use policies that are in place and what changes the future might bring. We can’t stop development, nor do we want to stop it completely. We do need to build smarter, though.

Pay close attention to the candidates and where they stand on these issues. Open space is becoming scarcer each day. Our choices that we make now will have a huge impact on our children tomorrow.

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