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Opinion Columns
For the week of April 26 through May 2, 2000

"A kick in the gut"—yurts arson case revisited

Commentary by BOB JONAS


I have come to believe, given the growth in numbers of both skiers and riders and the technological advances of motorized and non-motorized sport, that there is not room for both recreations in the narrow Upper Wood River Valley if my daughter is to have a quality backcountry or track ski experience in the upper Valley in the year 2020.


As the sole owner of Sun Valley Trekking Co. and its five backcountry huts, including the yurts at Boulder Creek, I am concerned about how the press has represented my feelings about the arson of the Boulder yurts and implicated the arson in the issue of snowmobile rider and skier zoning.

I prefer to consider the burning of the yurts as one helluva act of passion and not something moronic or a "drive-by" type of act.

Make no mistake, that for me, the burning was felt like a kick in the gut. I think of myself as an outfitter who provides settings off the beaten trail where friends and families have fun and get in touch with themselves and the land. When the initial shock wore off, I stopped feeling like a target. I do not want to believe the hut was a target either. However, in a vacuum of not knowing what happened at Boulder, we cannot sidestep the issue of zoning motorized and non-motorized recreation on our public lands.

Like it or not, someone has elevated our awareness about the implications of how we choose to recreate in these fast changing times and has challenged us to look at the impact of our choices upon others and the land.

We residents of the Wood and Sawtooth Valleys pursue our outdoor sports with uncommon passion and feel even more passionately about protecting our way of recreation. I believe that the challenge we face is to understand how our way affects others and thereby come to an appreciation of what constitutes a quality recreation experience for other users.

It’s easy to agree that motoring and legging into the country is inherently different; but it’s a hell of a lot tougher to convince oneself to restrict his or her freedom and give way to another or even to allow the land and wildlife to be left alone for its own sake. Yet it is this giving, unilaterally, not the give and take of compromise, that yields respect for one another.

The bedrock premise in the community debate is that both motorized and non-motorized sport are important and a quality experience must be preserved for both recreations. I’ve been a lift served, track and backcountry skier in these valleys for over 50 years. It’s been quite a trip from the days of skiing on Proctor and Ruud Mountain, the "way-out" run down the narrow track on the warm springs side of Baldy to the fields of wintering elk or the jeep trips up to Boulder Basin for summer skiing. I’ve owned a snowmobile in conjunction with my hut business and have ridden in Alaska across landscapes void of human presence.

However, the good old days of unregulated freedom on the land are gone. Now is the reality and, most important, the future we leave for our children and their children.

I have come to believe, given the growth in numbers of both skiers and riders and the technological advances of motorized and non-motorized sport, that there is not room for both recreations in the narrow Upper Wood River Valley if my daughter is to have a quality backcountry or track ski experience in the upper Valley in the year 2020.

I believe we must zone for our children’s sake and zone now.

Skiers and snowshoers are self-zoning. They are self-propelled and can travel only so far. Therefore track skiers ski exclusively on our valley’s narrow groomed trails like the Harriman except for some instances of spring corn skiing just off the track.

Backcountry skiers climb places like Durrance and Galena Mountains or ski to one of the area’s seven backcountry huts. They take the same trails up, impact very little terrain while skiing down or around the huts.

Skiers don’t use nor need much terrain. Snowmobile riders, especially powder sledders, need a lot more terrain than is available in the Upper Wood River Valley. They find it in places like Soldier, Cat Creek, the Little Wood, the Upper Salmon and all the way to Lowman. I believe the Upper Wood is not nearly as critical for their children as it is for skiers and snowshoers.

Still, the heart of me wants to share the country, all the country. I want to feel that both sides are willing to protect the other’s experience. I don’t want to have this miserable fear that there will be nothing left for the children or be reluctant to extend my hand to a rider because he or she was having fun tracking up a slope I wanted to track.

Can’t we please help each other through this difficult time? Can’t we make our example in the Wood River and Sawtooth Valleys, a model for the entire West? Can’t we develop an agreement grounded in respect rather than compromise? Let’s lead on this issue for our children’s sake.

The impassioned skier and snowmobile rider community, insisting upon the protection of its recreation experience, has brought both sides of the issue to mediated negotiation The impassioned debate that follows ultimately makes it possible to negotiate with our own self and move toward each other.

The ante, as per usual in this Great Valley, has been upped. Now, it’s time for all of us to participate at the table and make both sides of the issue winners. Please become fully aware and let the rider and skier representatives working toward a zoning map of the Upper Wood River Valley know where you stand.

Call Shelly Preston, chairperson of the Winter Coalition, at Blaine Country Recreation District, 788-2117, for names of representatives. Contact the Sawtooth Snowmobile Club or call Judy Harrison, 788-6367, of the Nordic and Backcountry Skiers Alliance for issue information and membership.

This Valley is the best base camp in the world, the place to which I shall always return. It’s the variety and beauty of the country here; the exceptional opportunity and quality of lifestyle for its youth and all its citizenry that this community has forged. Bill Levere, Supervisor of the Sawtooth National Forest, will make the zoning decision for us come October if the community fails at creating respect for each other on this issue.

Act now; get involved. Help.

 

Bob Jonas is the owner of the two Boulder Mountain yurts set afire on Sunday, April 2.

 

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