When the Wilderness Act was passed 50 years ago, creating a legal definition of wilderness and allowing Congress to designate areas as wilderness, the group pushing for the Wilderness Act had the foresight to set land aside to be protected for future generations.
Those future generations are now taking over the wilderness stewardship, which is the subject of a Montana-made film titled “Untrammeled.”
“We’re getting old, and when we get old, we’ve got to pass the baton on to somebody else that’s going to carry on with wilderness,” wilderness outfitter Smoke Elser says in the movie.
“Untrammeled” follows three groups of students — two groups of Montana high school students and one group of University of Montana students — as they take trips into the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat wilderness areas.
“The film is about youth in wilderness, and youth speaking to youth about wilderness,” said Joni Packard, regional volunteer, youth and service program coordinator for the Forest Service in Missoula.
The two high school groups travel in the Scapegoat Wilderness on stock-supported trips. The UM students were participants in UM’s Wilderness and Civilization Program and spent 12 days in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
“It’s totally unscripted,” Packard said of the film. “It’s all their experiences.”
Many of the high school students had never been in wilderness areas before.
“I literally had no idea this existed,” one student says during the movie.
While filming multi-day backcountry trips had its challenges, it was important that the film show the experience of spending multiple days, and nights, in a wilderness area.
“By day two or day three, you could really see something starting to change,” Packard said of the students who star in the film.
“Untrammeled” was produced by the Forest Service as part of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.
The idea originally came about when Packard was talking to a representative of the Back Country Horsemen of Montana who thought a film might be a good way to commemorate the anniversary.
“It just kind of blossomed from there,” said Connie Long, vice present of BCHM.
The Forest Service put the film out for bid, and Starrett Artists of Florence won the contract.
“The crew that worked on the film was completely Montana based,” said Julia Starrett of Starrett Artists.
The husband-and-wife film company chose to bid on “Untrammeled” because of the unique opportunity to film in the Scapegoat and Bob Marshall.
“The Forest Service rarely allows commercial filming in wilderness areas,” Starrett said. “The opportunity to go into a wilderness area and do some filming was amazing.”
A two-person film crew followed the two high school groups on two separate five-day pack trips and went along with the college students on a 75-mile, 12-day backpacking trip, all during the summer of 2013.
On the pack trips, BCHM recruited volunteers to help the film crew carry camera gear into the backcountry and then get the crew members to vantage points and other locations in order to film, Packard said.
During the backpacking trip, the film crew was on foot, carrying all their own gear.
“The biggest challenge was powering everything,” Starrett said. “In the backcountry there are a lot of restrictions ... You’re not allowed to bring generators.”
Instead, the crew used portable solar panels to charge camera batteries and other equipment.
“They were self-sufficient,” Starrett said. “Logistically, it was a feat.”
Starrett Artists’ mandate was to film the students while they experienced the wilderness.
“One of the hopes was to find the transformation of being in remote wilderness, what effect it had on them,” Starrett said.
That transformation did occur.
“It was pretty powerful to see,” she said.
Long spent some time on both of the trips with the high school students, and students on both trips had very similar reactions to the experience.
“None of them wanted to leave,” she said.
“It’s important for young folks to experience wilderness, not just to read about it, not just to see the pictures, because when you come out here, things change for you at a deep level often,” Steve Kimball, Forest Service Northern Region wilderness, rivers and guides program manager, says in the film.
The film is 25 minutes long.
“There’s just some amazing scenery and amazing interviews with the kids,” Starrett said.
The goal of the film is to help the next generation understand the importance of wilderness areas, Packard said.
“What we really hope is young people will be inspired to check it out for themselves,” she said.
“This is an incredible legacy they’re being handed.”
Starrett hopes the film gives people an appreciation for wilderness areas.
“I really hope people go away feeling like we do have this amazing land set aside and that they carry that into the future,” she said.