"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.
Its easy to agree that motoring and legging into the country is
inherently different; but its 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. Ive been a lift served, track and backcountry skier in these valleys
for over 50 years. Its 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. Ive 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
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 childrens 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 valleys narrow
groomed trails like the Harriman except for some instances of spring corn skiing just off
Backcountry skiers climb places like Durrance and Galena Mountains or ski
to one of the areas seven backcountry huts. They take the same trails up, impact
very little terrain while skiing down or around the huts.
Skiers dont 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 others experience. I dont
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.
Cant we please help each other through this difficult time?
Cant we make our example in the Wood River and Sawtooth Valleys, a model for the
entire West? Cant we develop an agreement grounded in respect rather than
compromise? Lets lead on this issue for our childrens 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,
its 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. Its 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.