For the greatest good…
Mount Mellenthin, La Sal Creek, Geyser Pass, Dry Fork, Oowah, Gold Knob, Bachelor Basin, Haystack, Shuman Gulch, Taylor Flat, Buckeye, Sally’s Hollow, Hidden Lake. Those are just a few of the spots on the vast La Sal Mountain range that most of us fondly call “The Mountain.” We use the term for simplicity and with a sense of personal connection. Many of us in southeastern Utah feel an ownership there, for the privacy and solace that our alpine oasis provides amidst a broad apron of harsh sandstone desert.
The U.S. Forest Service last week hosted meetings to take comments on how the user plan for the Manti-La Sal National Forest should be adjusted. It’s been 30 years since a new plan has been implemented, although there have been tweaks here and there, moratoriums on some sorts of activities, and a serious uptick in commercial and private recreation over the past three decades.
The Mountain has been loved and used by industrialized people since pioneer times, when early miners, some of whom were rushing to California to seek their fortunes, stubbed their toes on the beckoning laccoliths whose pointy peaks rise up to the east of Moab. The railroad let many newcomers off at Cisco where stagecoaches took them toward the Colorado River into the canyon depths, then up through Castle Valley to the berg of Castleton and then farther up rocky wagon roads into alpine basins. Castleton once vied with Moab to be the county seat of Grand County, such was its popularity at the second-to-last turn of the century.
Livestock growers were also using the mountain at that time, as they do now. Sheep and cattle have a long history in the West, Grand County not excluded. As one of the first industries in the La Sals, it is probably least liked by campers, hikers and bikers, regardless of its seniority in the scheme of things. The Trans-La Sal Trail, which stretches from South Mountain north to the Gateway road, was created by tough people who summered in the high ranges long before there was air conditioning in the oven of Moab. Those early users ran livestock and sawmills while others simply escaped the heat below, living in primitive cabins and wall tents from June until fall. They hunted, fished, and raised families up there. Many camped on government land. Some held 99-year permits, lifetime leases or mineral rights, and precious few owned patented land.
The Mountain is pulled in many directions, its alpine assets enjoyed for so many different reasons. It’s as it should be, under the directives of its multiple use manifesto, “For the greatest good.” That was the statement signed by Forest Supervisor Blake Bassett, whose announcement invited folks in Blanding, Monticello and Moab to attend open houses last week to discuss the outdated management plan. Forest managers will mull those comments as they try to be fair about the future.
I’ve had some time to wander high mountain trails this summer, filling my mouth with the sweetness of fruits that stain my fingers red. Raspberries, serviceberries and strawberries are all ripe, with chokecherries just beginning to turn from green to pink. The Mountain is a precious place, used hard for half the year then largely dormant under a coat of snow for the other six months. Most of us think of it as our own; we are protective about the times and experiences we enjoy there. And there are contentions.
Recreational users don’t like the imported mountain goats that might change the ecosystem on the peaks, and neither do they like the annual migration of Angus and Herefords that have been making trails up there long before there was such a thing as a mountain bike. Horse folks, like me, fear their equines will spook or collide with speeding bikers who are eating up the Whole Enchilada. Jeepers and motorbikes want to keep their routes open, while climbers hope the steep canyon walls of upper Mill Creek won’t get too crowded. Hunters worry about the deer herds while they’re casting lines into the many lakes.
What revisions need to be made to the Manti La Sal Forest Plan? I’ll be anxious to hear what folks have to say and how the Forest Service charts the future, managing the greatest good for the special place we call The Mountain.
ByBy Sena Taylor Hauer