CELEBRATION IN THREE PLACES
This summer was one of landmarks: American wilderness turned 40 and our Utah wildernesses turned 20. Since my residence in Utah turned 30 this year, a life inextricably woven into their celebrations, I offer a story best told through the summerís visits to three old friends under Region IV Forest Service management.
THE HIGH UINTAS WILDERNESS
In July I ventured into the high cirques rung by Ostler, Hayden and LaMotte Peaks-- a lofty platform for touching the clouds, walking among shooting stars, and breathing in the fury of a storm. For all of its magnificence, however, I was angered by the dark contrast of abuses I found along the trail: a horse camp at the toe of the Amethyst meadow (see FROM WHERE I STAND); horse damage along the trail, evident by telltale shoe-strikes on rocks knocked loose along the deep channel climb up to Amethyst Basin from the Stillwater Trail; the ever-widening tracks through bogs caused by rivulets not redirected from the trail with water bars (logs or rocks angled to divert water to low side of the trail and preventing the formation of a muddy mush); and fallen trees that had not been cleared from heavily used trails, posing a momentary obstacle to a hiker but a damaging diversion through new vegetation for a horseman who understandably seeks to finish his trip.
Failure to address these troubles along the trail only results in wider bogs, more destruction of a sensitive environment, and a sense that "everyone else does it, so I guess I can too."
THE SAWTOOTH WILDERNESS
I don't idly criticize. As a wilderness ranger I saw what people do when they think no one is looking or that someone else will clean up their mess. Too few truly practice no trace camping.
In August I hiked up to Sawtooth Lake. I had not taken that trail since I worked there 30 years ago as a ranger. I encountered old trees I knew even then, leaning over the exposed face of the mountain, dark curves in the switchback that threaded through fern-clogged springs, the cloud-combing, jagged ridge of peaks that give the range its name. My pack was heavy but my breathing was purposeful and not difficult as I made my way up to the place where I discovered what wilderness felt like. I felt 23 again.
The trail was well maintained, despite the many folks who shared my journey up or down the path to what has to one of the country's most photographed wilderness lakes. Again, I could not resist hugging the sign proclaiming entrance to the Sawtooth Wilderness. I was a ranger there when it was first protected. I will always celebrate its wonders in my heart. But, struck by how well maintained the trails and camps were maintained, I thought of "my" High Uintas and wondered how two forests can appear so different in condition. What is the cause of this?
THE MT. NAOMI WILDERNESS
It was a journey into the kingdom of October leaves--- a sight that stops you in your path and makes you wonder if you are really seeing such an explosive blend of windy, leafy skies. Under a dome of infinite blue, I felt the breeze race along the sharp drop of Mt. Elmer, Magog, and Gog, washing over one of this worldís stunning natural fortresses.
Yet the Naomi country is under siege by snowmobiles. For some reason, perhaps its proximity to Yellowstone N. P. and the tightening of closures there, this part of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest is a magnet for snowmobiles--- bigger, stronger, more daring-do and the money their owners obviously have to invest in the expensive machines. The industry is likewise a wealthy lobby in Congress. Mt. Naomi is violated by those who ignore the travel plans, destroy the closure signs, and defy law enforcement, knowing there is little budgeted to monitor their ìhigh markingî of snow bowls. Those lost or hurt are but a cell phone call away from Search and Rescue personnel who are more frequently called to help them out of a place the cautious or law-abiding wouldn't enter.
As Dick has said, the snowmobile is its own road. That is the insidious character of the beast. Local cross country skiers have many battles under their belts with this belligerent user group. While we fought years ago to protect Naomi as Wilderness, then to keep predator control planes from "pre-killing" the coyotes the "knew" would kill sheep on the range, and to slow the destruction of bear and cougar populations in this wild country, the wilderness is under a new, continuous attack by those who set their whining sleds into every mountainous spot to which they feel entitled.
It is a somber realization. We must constantly watch for these abuses and secure, through elusive forest planning and the various projects released by the agency, a Forest Service agreement to uphold its charge to honor land stewardship above social pressure from mechanized, vociferous egos.
Thank you, HUPC friends and members who have been so loyal, those I know and those I have never met but for whom I have such deep respect for staying with your organization in this campaign to keep the wild Uintas as close to what they were like before man impacted them. Whether indigenous hunters building rock "blinds" for killing mountain sheep, fur trappers snaring the high rivers and lakes for pelts, or railroad tie hackers sending through wooden flumes on the river the stout trees they cut knee high in the snow, we are all part of the human history of the High Uinta Mountains. That we are so many requires fastidious stewardship.