Sisterhood of the public lands: Great Old Broads for Wilderness laugh and learn

Profile | By Stephanie Paige Ogburn for High Country News – January 21, 2013

Hag Mask posted at Greater Canyonlands BroadwalkIt’s a brilliant Sunday morning in southeast Utah, and a hag mask hangs on the fence before me. Gray hair askew, she gapes at red cliffs through dripping fake blood. The vandal who mounted the mask has also locked the gate to our campsite. No one can get in or out — a dangerous prospect, since most of the 50 or so folks here are senior citizens. I’m about to photograph the scene, documenting what to me seems a gruesome tableau, when a voice pipes up: “She’s kind of pretty, actually.” “Yeah, she looks wise,” adds another. “Like us!” “Will you take my picture with her?” Rose Chilcoat, the rosy-cheeked, energetic 54-year-old associate director of the Great Old Broads for Wilderness, mugs next to the mask as I snap away.

I’m startled by the Broads’ calm response to this outrageous threat. The mask comes with an ominous note: “Get out of San Juan County. This is your last warning.” But Chilcoat, whose group educates elders about ubliclands issues in hopes of making them active stewards, seems unfazed.

Later on, in a more serious moment, she muses: “I never thought little old ladies in tennis shoes would be seen as such a threat.” But such extreme reactions to their activism have only encouraged Chilcoat and the Broads to hold fast to what might be called an essential tenet of “Broad-ness”: Humor is more powerful than fear.

Read the whole story here (pdf).