Kennedy School of Government


This case includes eleven sections, beginning with this introduction.

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Next section: Missoula and its wilderness centers.

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WIN Homepage graphic


At the start of the World Wide Web's popular ascent in 1995, a group of researchers and government managers in Missoula, Montana, became convinced that new information technologies could lead to a sea change in the management and use of the nation's most remote and untouched areas. Missoula, home to two federal interagency centers and a University of Montana institute all focused on wilderness issues, would also host a web site that would serve as the official nexus for the US government's wilderness system. Those in Missoula imagined that the site, the Wilderness Information Network or WIN, would offer much more than information from the four federal agencies that held responsibility for these unique stretches of land. It would spawn, so they hoped, a "cyberculture" of wilderness out of the disparate communities of educators, enthusiasts, researchers, and managers that all, in their own ways, sought to protect the nation's "primitive lands."

Increasingly, Missoula had come to be recognized both nationally and internationally as the "hotbed of the wilderness movement"--a movement that advocated an interdisciplinary approach spanning "hard" and "soft" sciences, combining studies of biodiversity with those of recreation and environmental ethics to create a new portrait of wilderness use and preservation. This approach espoused the necessity of pro-active intervention to ensure the survival of these "primeval lands." No longer was it possible, so research indicated, merely to isolate these tracts of land from the myriad influences of modern life.

In their eyes, the World Wide Web offered an unprecedented way to propagate this new vision among the broad community of those interested in wilderness. Wilderness managers, scientists, educators, environmental advocates, policy makers, as well as the public in whose trust the lands were held could share the same body of information and join in the same debates. WIN would raise awareness among the millions of outdoor adventurers and armchair tourists about the need for special reverence when approaching the wild. It would provide a way for wilderness professionals to keep abreast of the most recent research and discuss the burning issues shaping both wilderness policy and practice. At the very least, WIN would build a single portal for the nation's wilderness system, a task which three decades of effort had left unfinished due to the disparate and sometimes conflicting missions and structures of the federal agencies responsible for wilderness areas.

WIN, in short, would overcome barriers of geography, finances and bureaucracy that had hampered those in Missoula from reaching out to others across the country and around the globe. With limited budgets and far from the centers of power, the three institutions felt they had, for the first time, the capability to create an eager national and international cyber-community of wilderness advocates.




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