Summary of "This Land Is Our Land" by Ken Ilgunas
Ken Ilgunas wants to open all land to hikers, campers and walkers. He has written an expansive treatise calling for public access to private property. His thesis, the United States has too much private property in the hands of too few and those owners typically forbid nature lover’s free movement to camp and roam. Government should intervene, he posits, to open this private land. Ilgunas is the author of “This Land Is Our Land: How We Lost the Right to Roam and How to Take It Back.” He is the author of two memoirs, “Walden on Wheels,” and “Trespassing Across America.” This book is an expansion and deepening of “Trespassing.” The land was once ownerless, writes Ilgunas, and even what was owned could, without impediment, be crossed. The land of North America belonged to no one and everyone. He wrote about walking the proposed route for the Keystone Pipeline in “Trespassing”; it was that experience that compelled him to write “This Land.”
Private property is everywhere. Almost anywhere you walk in the United States, you will spot "No Trespassing" and "Private Property" signs on trees and fence posts. In America, there are more than a billion acres of grassland pasture, cropland, and forest, and miles and miles of coastlines that are mostly closed off to the public. Meanwhile, America's public lands are threatened by extremist groups and right-wing think tanks who call for our public lands to be sold to the highest bidder and closed off to everyone else. If these groups get their way, public property may become private, precious green spaces may be developed, and the common good may be sacrificed for the benefit of the wealthy few. Ken Ilgunas, lifelong traveler, hitchhiker, and roamer, takes readers back to the nineteenth century, when Americans were allowed to journey undisturbed across the country. Today, though, America finds itself as an outlier in the Western world as a number of European countries have created sophisticated legal systems that protect landowners and give citizens generous roaming rights to their countries' green spaces. Inspired by the United States' history of roaming, and taking guidance from present-day Europe, Ilgunas calls into question our entrenched understanding of private property and provocatively proposes something unheard of: opening up American private property for public recreation. He imagines a future in which folks everywhere will have the right to walk safely, explore freely, and roam boldly--from California to the New York island, from the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters.
On the whole, the only thing I’m worried about is step one in Benn’s progression: Getting ignored. I’d prefer that I skip ahead to steps two and three, when everyone can call me mad and dangerous. Honestly, the best thing that could happen for the right to roam is for me and my book to get burnt at the (metaphorical) stake. We should die the heretic's death: that is, die loudly and symbolically, surrounded by naysayers chanting for blood. This way, the idea can go as far as it can. It can reach as many eyes as possible. Then, at a later date, once we’ve all calmed down, once the idea has had time to slowly and more gently seep in the collective consciousness, maybe we can begin an earnest debate about the right to roam.