Monday, January 05, 2015

Pilgrim's Wilderness

Imagine living in a small town next to national forest. One morning a large family rolls into town looking for a place to live far away from everyone and everything. Some might describe this family as charming, quaint, old-fashioned, religious, and conservative. Others may call them strange, extremists and out-there. One such family did roll into one of the most remote towns, McCarthy Alaska.

The patriarch of the family called himself Pilgrim. His wife and each of his 15 children had similar Bible-inspired names. The family was initially welcomed to McCarthy, a town who welcomes those looking for space and freedom. Pilgrim eventually buys a piece of private land located smack in the middle of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. This land was also located next an old, abandoned mine also in the park. He builds a couple of cabins and relocates his family there to live. The problem is there was no decent road to his property. The existing road was not maintained by the park service and had deteriorated to the point where it was not passable by vehicles. So Papa Pilgrim got a backhoe and fixed it. That one action launched a series of conflicts between the national park service, environmentalists, and locals over property rights.

Tom Kizzia, a reporter who followed the story for many years, writes this very interesting story about Pilgrim and his family. As the story unfolds, we learn that Papa Pilgrim is not as innocent as he appears. He has a very interesting past ranging from murder, to roaming the world as a hippie, to converting to his own version of Christianity. The unraveling of Papa Pilgrim and the Hale family begins and ends in Alaska.

The story is really made up of two parts. The first is the story of Papa Pilgrim and the Hale family. The second is the property rights for in-holders in National Parks. The first story takes precedence over the second, the second only being mentioned as the tipping point. The story of the Hale family is an interesting, sad story. It's not because the family homeschooled their children or professed a certain belief. Many people do the same. It's the evil actions of one man that a whole family was damaged. This part of the story reads like a true-crime novel.

The author does an excellent job telling this story. But he is not completely objective, and admits as much. He is a strong environmentalist and takes a position against in-holders. An interesting position since he also owns a small cabin in the park. I wanted to read more about in-holders in National Parks and the issues they face. Perhaps Papa Pilgrim did have a right to build a road. We will never know how that all would have been concluded because Pilgrim was arrested and the family left their land. This may not have been the book for such a discussion on property rights, but it made me curious for more.

Book Rating: 4 stars

The books I select for review are books which I personally select from my local library. I do not receive any reimbursement from authors or publishers or free books. I do provide links to Amazon as a convenience to the readers of this blog. I do earn a small referral pittance which is not even enough to buy a soda.

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