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How We Lost the Right to Roam and How to Take It Back

by Ken Ilgunas

Pub Date: April 10th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-7352-1784-3
Publisher: Plume

Woody Guthrie was singing a truth that we’ve allowed to sicken and nearly die; it’s time to nurse it back to health.

An assiduous roamer and backcountry ranger, Ilgunas (Trespassing Across America: One Man's Epic, Never-Done-Before (and Sort of Illegal) Hike Across the Heartland, 2016, etc.) returns with a heavily researched, passionate argument about the need for America to emulate many other countries and allow its citizens to roam across the land, public as well as private. He asserts that roaming was long a part of the American way of life, but we have lost the way. He offers some disturbing statistical evidence—e.g., how few people own most of the private land and how our national parks and monuments are overflowing with visitors. He also notes how our sedentary lifestyle is affecting our health—and our national budget—and he continually reminds us how much better it is elsewhere for roamers; Scotland and Sweden are among his most frequent examples. Ilgunas populates the text with iconic literary and cultural figures who believed in roaming, from Plato to Rousseau to Thoreau. The author also knows the counterarguments to “free roaming”—e.g., lawsuits against landowners, litter, armed roamers—and he devotes a significant section of the narrative to answering, if not refuting, them all. In a final chapter devoted to how we might accomplish his dream, the author cites the works and words of legal authorities, and he appeals to our better selves—an approach that, unfortunately, does not often bear fruit. “Let’s not be so fixated on something as small as individual liberty,” he writes, “…when we should be thinking about something far grander and far nobler: the health of the community, the health of the planet, the prosperity of the human race and all our fellow species.”

Earnest, thoughtful, and alarming in places—an optimistic work that urges America toward a profound cultural shift.