50th Anniversary Of The Wilderness Act – Remembering Its Greatest Champion, Howard Zahniser

Howard Zahniser, 1928

September 3, 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, a legislation that currently protects more than 100 million acres in 750 wilderness areas nationwide.

Few colleges lay claim to a legend-in-the-making among their students, but this year, environmentalists nationwide will remember one student from the Greenville College Class of ’28, Howard Zahniser, as legendary.

Howard Zahniser, shown in the college’s 1928 yearbook as president of the debating club, would later ply his oratory skills on a national stage to champion The Wilderness Act, a landmark legislation that he authored. The Wilderness Act defined wilderness in the U.S. and created a way for Americans to preserve their most pristine wild lands for future generations. The achievement showcased Zahniser’s strength and dexterity as a communicator and negotiator, skills honed at GC through his tenure as the president of the college debating club, editor of the college newspaper and member of a literary society at the college.

After graduating from GC, Zahniser briefly taught high school and then worked as a writer and researcher for federal agencies, including the Fish & Wildlife Service and the USDA before working for the Wilderness Society where he would eventually orchestrate diligent efforts to create and pass the Wilderness Act.

Though Zahniser was confident of victory, he did not live to see it. He died of heart failure at age 58, just four months before President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill into law on September 3, 1964.

At his alma mater, where he received an honorary doctorate in 1957, his passion remains alive. Students explore wild places through backpacking trips, canoeing, rock-climbing and an annual 10-day Walkabout in the Great Smokey Mountains.