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Great Old Broads for the Wilderness

Posted on 5/14/2019 12:00:00 AM in The Buzz

While the “Great Old Broads” don’t take themselves too seriously, they all share a serious commitment to protect our country’s wild places.

By Jan Byrnes, Vice President, Grand Circle Foundation

The Lewis Family Foundation and Grand Circle Foundation have been supporting conservation efforts since 1981, and recently provided funding of more than $200,000 to support the effort to preserve and protect the land in the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.

While at the grand opening for the Bears Ears Education Center in September 2018, a board member of Friends of Cedar Mesa and an O.A.T. traveler recommended I connect with the organization Great Old Broads for the Wilderness (Broads). I laughed when she told me the name of the group, and thought the group sounded fun and interesting. She thought the organization of volunteer leaders and activists—primarily older women—would be of interest to Alan and Harriet, and the more I learned about the “Broads” as they call themselves, the more I realized she was right.

Great Old Broads for Wilderness is a national grassroots organization, led by women, that engages and inspires activism to preserve and protect wilderness and wild lands. It began in 1989 on the 25th anniversary of the Wilderness Act by a feisty bunch of lady hikers who wanted to refute Utah Senator Orrin Hatch’s notion that wilderness is inaccessible to elders. About that time, wilderness designation had been proposed for Escalante State Park in Utah, and Senator Hatch opposed it, saying, “If for no other reason, we need roads for the aged and infirm.”

Founder Susan Tixier and her fellow activists were outraged, and with sudden clarity, saw that an important voice was missing from the environmental movement: the older woman—impassioned, experienced, not afraid to speak out, and definitely not needing roads. The group of women of “a certain age” committed themselves to grassroots advocacy to preserve wilderness and wild places for future generations.

Broads gives voice to the millions of Americans who want to protect their public lands as wilderness for this and future generations. Today, there are 40 chapters, called Broadbands, with 70 women leaders and 500 members and supporters across the nation. Membership includes women from their 30s to their 90s and men (Great Old Bros), too! Most of the chapters are out west, as that’s where most public land is located, however there are also chapters in the Midwest, east coast, and southeast

Grand Circle Foundation began our partnership by providing $10,000 to fund one week of Broads’ annual Wilderness Advocacy Leadership Training Sessions (WALTS) held in March of this year. 13 women attended the workshop from nine states including Alaska, New Hampshire, and Texas where there has never been Broadband representation before.

The Grassroots Leadership Program just recently celebrated its ten-year anniversary of the formation of Broadband chapters and to date has trained 150 women to lead chapters across 16 states. The WALTS training serves as a place for Broads leaders to learn and have fun while building camaraderie with a group of passionate, wild women who want to make a difference.

The goals of WALTS are to educate leaders on grassroots organizing methods, the use of storytelling and relationship building, event planning, leadership development, and issue identification to promote strong women’s voices and effective action. The training also provides a place to celebrate women’s leadership, the power of collective voice, and a love for wild public lands needed to be effective advocates for its protection.

When the women complete the workshop, they are equipped with the tools to host meetings, conduct stewardship and volunteer projects, engage the public in education and outreach events, and begin their journey as effective leaders in the conservation movement.

Protecting Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments continue to be issues that are near and dear to the organization’s hearts, especially today amongst the political chaos and misrepresentation of land management policy. Broads held a 60-person “Broadwalk” campout for five days in the gorgeous Bears Ears National Monument to connect members with this remarkable landscape and thank President Obama for designating its protection. Later in large numbers, Broads attended the public hearing held in Bluff, Utah to speak against the proposed reductions of the monument, and are now in litigation to fight against the illegal reduction.

Broads may be a small-staffed organization, but they are strong in voice and numbers, and activate change from their backyards to Washington, D.C.

Learn more about Grand Circle Foundation—and our partnerships at home and around the world— here.

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