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Difference Maker

Veronica Egan and the 'Great Old Broads' keep vigil over endangered wild lands.

The conservation group, made up mostly of older women, helps the US government track illegal use of public lands in the US West.

By Marilyn Jones/ Correspondent / January 26, 2010

Victoria Egan’s childhood in Cleveland and young adulthood in New Mexico sparked her intense interest in land conservation and stewardship.

Carl Greers/Special to the Christian Science Monitor


Durango, Colo.

Don't call Veronica Egan a lady. Call her what she calls herself: a great old broad. As executive director since 2002 of Great Old Broads for Wilderness, an environmental group based in Durango, Colo., Ms. Egan encourages everyone to become a "Broad."

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Members don't have to be an over-50 woman – although most are. "Broadness," Egan says, "is a state of mind." You can also join if you're a younger woman – you'll be known as a Training Broad. Or even if you're a guy: You'll be a "Great Old Bro."

While becoming a "Great Old Broad" includes taking fun hikes with like-minded, age-compatible women, the real purpose of the group runs deeper and, well ... broader.

Founded by Susan Tixier as a nonprofit organization in Escalante, Utah, in 1989 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the passage of the federal Wilderness Act, Great Old Broads for Wilderness means business. Its mission is to advocate for wilderness and wildlands. To do this, it relies almost entirely on the experience, energy, activism, and commitment of elders.

Talk with Egan and she quickly reveals her commitment to her work.

"We're not doing this just for ourselves, just so we can go out there for our own last great hike. We want to preserve what we've been able to experience – these glorious places – for our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren."

Egan learned early about the destruction humans can do to the natural environment. As a child in Cleveland, she grew up near the shore of Lake Erie. While she had freedom as a kid to ramble through the ravines and wooded areas near her home, her parents forbade her to go near the lake. Because of its severe pollution, the government deemed Erie a "dead" body of water. Egan remembers seeing the banks lined with dead fish. That image made a deep impression on her.

Later, when her family was preparing to move to New Mexico – and Egan set off for college – Ohio's Cuyahoga River caught fire, fueled by petrochemicals in the water. Coincidentally, Egan discovered Rachel Carson's landmark book on the environment, "Silent Spring."

These events ignited a passion in Egan to become an advocate for natural resources. Living in Santa Fe, N.M., on her family's dude ranch – "a hotel with horses," she says, laughing – she became a professional guide and outfitter for 30 years, which helped her understand the wisdom of conservation and good stewardship of the land, something she began to share.

"I used my saddle as my soapbox," she says.

Much later, when she decided to make a change, she felt drawn to Great Old Broads. "The mission spoke to my passion. And, of course, there's the name of the group – I loved the humor."

In the rough-and-tumble world of environmental activism, the age factor can be a plus, Egan says. Broads in 22 chapters – "Broadbands" – in 18 states join with other environmental groups to ensure that wilderness areas will be preserved for future generations.