The Roadless ProjectAn obsessive exploration of the last un-roaded places in the US
“This is the wilderness that I need to know about when I fall asleep in the city. Even when I am not there, I need to know that this type of place still exists. I think this is something that we all need, the knowledge that there are places out there that are still wild. We need places beyond our control and at the edge of our imaginings that can be both dangerous and beautiful – the untamed source of life.”
One man’s search for America’s least known wilderness.
I was re-framing a photograph of a waterfall when the dogs began barking in earnest behind me. The small river coming over the waterfall was rushing off the Cleveland Peninsula in southeast Alaska. The dogs kept barking for the next fifteen minutes I spent at the falls. There were several large Grizzly bear tracks around the base of the falls, and by the time I left I was starting to get nervous. Everyone else was waiting for me in the boat. “Bears”, was the only thing our friend and guide said as I climbed into the boat. The dogs jumped in behind me.
There are no roads to Cleveland Peninsula, and that was exactly why I had wanted to go there. I was in southeast Alaska as part of my search for America’s Inventoried Roadless Areas, a set of lands identified by the US Forest Service as suitable for Wilderness protection when the Wilderness Act was passed in 1964. For three decades these lands sat in regulatory limbo. Then in 2000 a forest service regulation known as the Roadless Rule gave this vast collection of lands protection from the any further road building. In many ways, roads cut at the heart of almost every environmental issue that affects forests in the United States – water quality, endangered species management, re-introduced predators, logging, off-road vehicles, invasive species, forest fragmentation – roads are tied into all of these issues in some way.
In the middle of the ongoing political and legal upheaval surrounding the Roadless Rule I decided to track down and explore some of these places myself. I had come to Alaska after traveling to countless little known places in the lower forty-eight states – travels that led to some massive changes in my own life. As I we motored away from the peninsula, I found myself wondering when or if I would ever get back to any of these amazing places.
ROADLESS was a deeply intertwined mixture of photography from these explorations, an extensive web-mapping project (see below), a set of exhibitions starting in the U.S. Senate Building and interviews with dozens of people who support the conservation of these lands. I am putting together a book from the project – please subscribe to my email list if you’d like to know when it comes out.
A selection of images from the project.
When I created roadlessland.org in 2006, there were no publicly available maps of the U.S. Inventoried Roadless Areas. The only maps available were Forest Service maps, which were so simplified as to be completely useless – even for finding the lands. I decided to create a publicly usable web map with the GIS data available through the government. At that time, nobody had created a simple to use mapping site that could handle a great number of complicated boundaries quickly enough to be used on a basic home computer. Google maps had just made their maps available to developers. I taught myself three programming languages and spent 10 months creating Roadlessland.org.
Roadlessland.org was used by dozens of regional conservation groups in their work to protect the Inventoried Roadless Areas, and soon outdoor enthusiasts began accessing the maps as well. Roadlessland.org stopped functioning in 2014, and I have not rebuild it due to time constraints. Now maps of the inventoried roadless areas can be found a few places online. Here is one: National Inventoried Roadless Areas on Data Basin.