Quote 2, Henry David Thoreau on Preserving Land


Each town should have a park, or rather a primitive forest, of five hundred or a thousand acres, where a stick should never be cut for fuel, a common possession forever, for instruction and recreation. We hear of cow-commons and ministerial lots, but we want men-commons and lay lots, inalienable forever….


Button found 14 April 2011 and reused

All Walden Wood might have been preserved for our park forever, with Walden in its midst, and the Easterbrooks Country, an unoccupied area of some four square miles, might have been our huckleberry-field…. As some give to Harvard College or another institution, why might not another give a forest or huckleberry-field to Concord?

–Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau is well known as America’s philosopher-naturalist. Here he gives an early statement of the need to set aside natural land. By the mid-1800s, many people were lamenting the loss of the country’s wild lands, but few took the next step of recommending preservation.  In this passage and also other writings of his later years, Thoreau did.  He not only states that every town (what in the Midwest we call a township) ought to set aside a 500- to 1000-acre preserve, but also notes that the protection should be in perpetuity (“inalienable forever’) and suggests a method–by charitable donation to the town government.

This passage was in his journal for October 15, 1859, but he was also including it, slightly reworked, in his last book, eventually published in 2000 as Wild Fruit.

3 thoughts on “Quote 2, Henry David Thoreau on Preserving Land

  1. Philip Brewer

    It’s sad that “inalienable forever” is so hard to make stick. It’s obvious that most institutions can’t be trusted.

    I just went to a talk on Allerton’s Paradises (a new coffee-table book by a Maureen Holtz, a former coworker of mine) about Allerton Park and Allerton’s Kauai estate. One topic that came up was how unhappy Robert Allerton had been with the result of giving his estate to the University of Illinois. (The University was pretty unhappy as well.)

    Based on that experience, Allerton used a different procedure for his Hawaiian estate, giving ownership of the land to a Chicago-based trust while turning management over to the National Tropical Botanical Garden. That seems to have worked out a lot better.

    It makes me think that some similar divided ownership/management scheme is probably the best way to go to preserve land if the goal is to make it “inalienable forever.” If the entity with management authority doesn’t own the land, it eliminates the otherwise perpetual temptation to deal with funding shortfalls by selling off land. And, if the entity with actual ownership has no management authority, perhaps it can be restrained from the temptation to make a killing by selling off the land to developers. (In particular, I think you’d want to require that any money the ownership trust made by selling land would have to go to the management company.)

  2. Dick Klade

    Both the quote and Philip Brewer’s comment are interesting. To my knowledge (and admittedly I’ve been somewhat out of touch on the subject lately), we have yet to experience a declassification of any designated Wilderness since the Act of 1964. We usually think of designation under the act as applying to National Forest or National Park lands, but some other ownerships are included. I wonder if there’s ever been a case of an individual donating land with the provision that it become part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

    Of course, that would not guarantee perfect safety forever. But it would take that proverbial “act of Congress” for declassification to take place. At least, as things stand toay, an attempt at declassification would set off a lot of howling by interested citizens that might stop any such action.

    Richard: Might not something along this line be a good topic for a Saturday discussion? I for one would be very interested in your insights.

  3. Pingback: Quote 5. William H. Whyte & Kalamazoo’s Own Walden Wood | Richard Brewer

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