While growing up, I spent summers with my grandfather, Robert F. Nicodemus (1908-1998), and grandmother at their old farmhouse in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. We stayed busy taking care of the house, the land, and each other. My grandfather and I worked together on our chores everyday but always had time to take walks through the woods, breathe the fresh air, and talk.
Many things had changed since my grandfather was young and over the years he told me many accounts of how the land and streams were different when he was growing up. Extensive clear-cutting of forests and strip-mining had taken away the natural beauty of the mountains and streams he used to know. He explained that we could not fish in many of his favorite streams and creeks where he used to fish because they had been contaminated by pesticides or mining runoff. I read the signs along those waters as a kid and wondered how it could have happened. Even in the remaining natural places, there was almost always litter or graffiti nearby. Who would do something like this and why? It was as if they had never even met the places that we loved.
I was inspired to establish this organization and pursue a life long career in Conservation Biology because of the values my grandfather passed on to me. When he passed away in 1998, I knew I had lost someone who could never be replaced. Every good deed that this organization accomplishes is one small repayment to honor a man who opened my eyes and heart to the beauty of wilderness.
Robert F. Nicodemus
Who was Robert F. Nicodemus? Among other things, he was a farmer, an electrician, a decorated World War II veteran, an avid fisherman, an inventor, and a naturalist. He was not a famous ecologist but he knew about the importance of conserving native ecosystems. He was not a respected environmentalist but he tended the land and water near his home with care and conservation. He never organized a trail cleanup but he picked up trash in the woods and along the rivers of Pennsylvania throughout his life. He was not a renowned wilderness advocate but his eyes lit up with passion when he talked about the mountains and rivers of the American West.
In fact, Robert F. Nicodemus never knew of the organization that ultimately bore his name. He passed away before this wilderness project was formed. However, there were many smaller wilderness projects that my grandfather and I had organized in the past. One project was to take walks by the rivers and pick up trash along the way. Another was to clear out nonnative trees around the farmhouse. These and other projects were not only lots of fun but were also fulfilling. What my grandfather passed on to me was a strong wilderness ethic and the need to be a steward of the land.
My grandfather told me once after a visit to my childhood home, near the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, that the American West was God's country. He found something magical in the grand snow-capped peaks, rugged terrain, and clear waters. His excitement made me see the wilderness that surrounded me in a new and more meaningful way. I realized that the great wilderness areas of the American West as well as those in other parts of the world were places to hold close to your heart.
- Robert K. Dudley, Ph.D., President, Nicodemus Wilderness Project -
- Wheeler Peak Wilderness, New Mexico, 3 September 2000 -