Mothering Nature.

Old broads battle for wilderness.

Imagine your 70-year-old grandmother trekking up a 12,000-foot peak—steps ahead of you. Then imagine her lobbying on behalf of wilderness protection, fighting against oil and gas exploration, public-land grazing, and off-road vehicle activity.

Age holds no boundaries for the Great Old Broads for Wilderness, a nonprofit organization founded in 1989. Most of the 4,500 members grew up in an era when parents told their children to go outside and play, and now, even though the average Broad is between 50 and 60 years old, these women still play in the wild and work to protect it. “We have outings outdoors, but they always have a purpose,” says Veronica Egan, executive director of the Broads.

The Broads’ formation was inspired by a late-1980s political debate in which one side claimed wilderness areas without roads restricted older Americans’ ability to use and enjoy them. Susan Tixier, founder of the Broads, disagreed with this notion.

“We may be long in the tooth, our backs may hurt, and our legs may not move as fast as they used to, but we are dedicated to the preservation of wilderness,” Veronica says, highlighting the organization’s approach toward ageless advocacy. “It’s just amazing: the talent, resilience, passion, and humor of our members. Every one of them is still at it.”

Comprised of consummate outdoorswomen like Rose Chilcoat, the Broads’ associate director and a former National Park Service ranger, the group’s unassuming gray-haired membership boasts some impressive outdoor résumés. Rose expands on the roll call: “Some have lived the most incredible adventures, whether it’s climbing Everest, being guides around the globe, journeying into exotic wild places. Everything from outdoor educators to housewives. They love wild places and they are doing something about protecting them.”

Turns out the group’s grandmotherly approach works well with politicians and bureaucrats who are often surprised to get calls or e-mails from 60-, 70-, 80-, and 90-year-old women advocating for wilderness. According to Veronica, the Broads’ ability to speak about locations in the first person carries clout. “We don’t actually claim a particular campaign, but we add to the activism discussion using the voice of elders,” she says. In short, the goal is to partner with and enhance local conservation efforts.

The group’s most successful program, the Broads’ Healthy Land Project, includes a protocol that trains members, volunteers, and partners to record the impacts of off-road vehicles on public lands. One of the Broads’ biggest triumphs was monitoring an unauthorized ATV trail in a canyon in Utah’s San Juan County. “This canyon was like a miniature Mesa Verde, full of archeology,” Veronica says. Though the group had advocated the trail’s closure for years, its cooperative monitoring project provided the hard evidence that convinced the Bureau of Land Management to close the trail—and enforce the closure—in 2007.

A passionate resolve radiates throughout the Great Old Broads for Wilderness. Even members who aren’t physically active still attend meetings, send e-mails, and make phone calls. The group’s philosophy, says Veronica, includes the past and future. “If we can no longer get there by foot, we can always get there by memory, and that’s much better than not having wild lands for our grandchildren.”

—Gigi Ragland