Rob Burbank's Outdoors with the AMC: Waterman Fund essay contest addresses technology's impact

ROB BURBANK March 02. 2013 1:50AM

DO CELL PHONES, GPS units and similar devices have a place in the backcountry - or are they intrusions on wildness? Is technology changing the way we take to the woods and impacting the nature of our experience there?

The Waterman Fund wants to know, and the organization has chosen technology in the woods as the theme for this year's Waterman Fund 2013 Alpine Essay Contest. The deadline for submissions is April 15.

This is the sixth annual contest promoted by the organization. The winning essayist will receive $1,500, with his or her essay appearing in the pages of "Appalachia," the Appalachian Mountain Club's semi-annual journal of mountaineering and conservation.

Views on the use of technology in the backcountry vary among outdoors enthusiasts. Are such devices as personal locator beacons essential safety devices, or does planning, self-reliance and an ethic of self-rescue trump technological advances? While smart phones may be seen as a lifeline to the front country, does possession of them in the woods fundamentally change the backcountry experience? These and other questions are among those that might be explored by those cogitating on the subject.

A press release promoting the contest asks essayists to consider this: "As handheld devices, such as mobile phones, are used more in the woods, a place where traditionally people would go to escape the demands of everyday life, new questions arise about the bounds and ethics of wild places. What technology means and what the wild means are open to question and interpretation by nonfiction essay contestants."

According to the Waterman Fund website (, the organization "seeks to further the legacy" of Laura and the late Guy Waterman through the annual Alpine Essay Contest. Acknowledged proponents of conservation and low-impact hiking and camping, the Watermans authored books focusing on the history of hiking and climbing in the Northeast, such as "Forest and Crag," and on outdoor mores, such as "Wilderness Ethics" and "Backcountry Ethics."

The Waterman Fund focuses on the preservation of the Northeast's alpine areas and seeks "to strengthen the human stewardship" of those places. The organization also awards grants to support alpine stewardship.

In addition to a $1,500 prize for the winning essay, a $500 honorable mention prize is offered, and that essay is to be posted on the organization's website.

"Appalachia," the journal in which the winning essay is to appear, has been published since 1876.

As noted on its website at, it is "America's longest-running journal of mountaineering and conservation." "Appalachia" includes accounts of mountaineering expeditions, climbing accident analyses, essays, poetry and book reviews.

Waterman Fund Alpine Essay Contest submissions must be at least 2,000 words. Aspiring contestants should visit the website at for complete contest rules. Essays may be sent to or The Waterman Fund, Attention: Bethany Taylor, P.O. Box 1064, East Corinth, Vt. 05040.

Rob Burbank is the director of media and public affairs for the Appalachian Mountain Club in Pinkham Notch. His column, "Outdoors with the AMC," appears monthly in the New Hampshire Sunday News.

Outdoors with the AMC

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