The U.S. Forest Service has just made some decisions to build new trails, remove a few trails, and more closely regulate commercial outfitter use. But it’s not likely to ease the tensions of user groups whose passions about the mountain are sometimes diametrically opposed.
Recent letters to the editor are proof that passions and history run strong with regard to the mountain and who uses it. Those whose livelihoods depend on grazing are right that they and their forefathers have been the longest-running land stewards on the La Sals. Though grazing gets a bad rap from many factions, I’m convinced that a successful livestock operation depends in large part on having bountiful feed. Stockmen for generations have been working with the Forest Service to maintain a balance that is not detrimental to the land. And they know the range like the backs of their weathered hands.
Sometimes I get concerned about grazing, too, such as when the range looks like it’s been cut with a barber’s number one blade, or when dry conditions make the mountain wilt. As for the manure issue, I know better than to plant a tent where the cows have been camping. There’s still room enough to share. The seasons come and go, and depending on the weather, the forage is better some years than others.
When mountain biking became the craze on our desert a few decades ago, I thought and probably hoped that the single-track trails on our mountains were too steep and rugged to accommodate mountain bikes. But it didn’t take cyclists and tour companies long to discover the La Sals, given the hot desert temperatures down valley and mountain bikers’ ever-increasing desires to negotiate even the roughest of trails. I have mixed emotions about that, but I still believe there is room enough to share.
I am a horseback rider who has been riding the trails up there, purely for fun, for more than 35 years. Growing up, my best friend and I had horses but no horse trailer. If we wanted to ride in the mountains, we had to ride from town, and we did! It would take us two days to get over Geyser Pass, but we’d pack enough gear to spend the night along the way. We wouldn’t see a soul, and we worried about nothing except the high school romances we’d left back in town. Later, when I was in college, I had a volunteer job with the Forest Service wherein I got to stay at the Warner Ranger Station with my two horses for the better part of the summers in exchange for marking old trails that had become little used and overgrown.
If you look at the well-used trails now, it’s hard to believe there was a period of decades when the trails were used by hardly anyone. But now the Trans-La Sal network of trails developed for wagons and early miners in the late 1800s provides a lot of recreational fun for a lot of users. It’s hard to imagine that the early trailblazers had villages in Bachelor Basin and Miners Basin, and that they searched for precious metals. Many families spent summers on the mountain just to escape the heat of Moab. Some people camped at Warner Lake, while others homesteaded areas around Blue Lake and Dark Canyon, traveling clear over the mountain to Old La Sal. People have loved the La Sals for a long time.
There is a local motorcycle/ATV group whose title and motto is worth considering as this mountain-related bickering gets volleyed back and forth. The group calls itself Ride with Respect, and though you might see some of its members tooling around the designated roadways on the mountain, their motorized rigs are not allowed on the trails relative to the Forest Service’s recent decision. Still, the issue of respect is what it comes down to. The Forest Service has long addressed its challenge to serve multiple users and uses. The agency walks a fine line to protect and manage the public lands, and I often disagree with how it operates. But this recent trail plan is an example of its charge.
The other key – respect for others – is in the charge of each of us who visits our beloved La Sal Mountains. We have no other choice but to share.