Celebrating 100 years of the Gila Wilderness with Poetry & Song


In southwest New Mexico the world’s first dedicated wilderness was established June 3, 1924.  The Gila Wilderness is part of New Mexico’s Gila National Forest, comprising 3 million acres of wild, natural beauty.  On the eastern edge of this vast landscape, the community of Kingston will celebrate the Gila’s 100th anniversary on June 1 and 2 with prayers, poetry and music.

This Gila Wilderness Centennial Celebration is a free event, sponsored by the Southwest Environmental Education Coalition (SWEEC) and the Black Range Lodge. Activities will begin at 4 p.m. Saturday, June 1, with poetry readings from the New Mexico Poetry Anthology, followed by a musical performance from John Coinman and Blair Forward.   

On Sunday, June 2 beginning at noon, the Black Cat Poets from Truth or Consequences will showcase their odes to nature, followed by entertainment from the local Hillsboro “pickin’ circle.”

Throughout the weekend, on the green lawn of the Lodge, in the shade of juniper and fruit trees, local artists and authors will offer art and crafts, poetry and wilderness books for sale, as well as beverages available from the local winery, Black Range Vineyards.

John Coinman is an award-winning singer-songwriter who grew up on the Kiowa Grasslands in Clayton, New Mexico. He has recorded five solo albums and had numerous songs in films and on television. John is the bandleader for Kevin Costner & Modern West (KCMW) and he was the Music Supervisor for the film Dances With Wolves. He has been touring with KCMW since 2006 and has recorded 5 albums of original songs with the band including the companion CD to the award winning miniseries Hatfields And McCoys.

The idea of “wilderness” had long been a dream of conservationist Aldo Leopold who, as a young man in the early 1900s, was one of the first U.S. Forest Service rangers in the region.  The profound lessons he learned during his tenure convinced him that some of America’s vast wild landscape needed to be preserved from human commodification. Lobbying Congress with elegant essays and insights, Leopold’s dream was realized with the preservation of the Gila Wilderness area, in a mountainous region of tall trees, majestic canyons and wild rivers, once home to tribes of Chihene, or Apache, people.

U.S. Wilderness Areas are defined as “an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain”.  Camping, hunting and fishing are allowed, but no roads, buildings, logging, mining, or mechanized vehicles are permitted. The Gila Wilderness in southwest New Mexico is the world’s first designated wilderness which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.