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Park's General Management Plan must continue Mineral King permits

by John Elliott
From the Kaweah Commonwealth
Friday, April 23, 1999

Following this week's public meetings, it's apparent that the best thing the new General Management Plan (GMP) can accomplish relative to Mineral King is to continue the permits mandated by the 1978 legislation. There seems to be a range of practical ide as for Mineral King, but central to each is preservation.

Why not? Mineral King is an exceptional area that contains both natural and cultural resources. Everyone who knows anything about Mineral King agrees that this is a special place.

The NPS cult ural resource experts went to step further and determined the entire Mineral King Road landscape eligible for listing on the National Register of Historical Places. The determination mandates historical preservation be a part of the GMP's vision for this scenic area.

By an overwhelming margin, the future vision for Mineral King has attracted the most interest at the public meeting whether in San Francisco, Loa Angles, Sacramento, or Three Rivers. Of course, the reason for this is, that at Mineral King, people have the greatest stake.

What's at stake is an enclave of privately owned cabins unlike any other. In fact, the little mountain community that sleeps through the winter and comes alive each summer is really an important vestige of Tulare County and the history of California.

The problem is that Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are best at providing the typical visitor with what they like to call a "natural" experience. It's a chance for thousands each summer to escape the stress of the urban experience.

Trying to manage the summer stampede has park officials in a crisis mode. It's a management problem that is geared to herd this horde into five developed areas - that quickly says to the visitor "Look, but don't touch," and "How much is it worth to you to know this will all be here for generations?"

In attempt to meet this management crisis, the goal has been to manage as much of park acreage as possible as wilderness. The law is specific as to what the NPS can do and cannot do under this designation.

At present, 85 percent of Sequoia-Kings Canyon is being manages as wilderness. The mission of Sequoia-Kings Canyon is largely ecosystem preservation. Tightly controlled wilderness areas accomplish this best of all.

Unfortunately, wilderness is not accessible to the typical visitor, nor in most cases, do they have the physical ability or even the desire to make a wilderness experience a part of their visit. What the typical visitor wants is some interaction with the great outd oors. For many, the still includes camping and hiking, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks remains one of the best places on Earth to do both.

Mineral King, however, presents a unique management challenge. The winding road, that does not appeal to the typical visitor, has dictated a different course that calls for a unique management strategy.
Park planners are making a valiant effort to listen to the public on Mineral King relative to the goals of the present GMP. What I hear being said is this.

There never will be a huge demand for facilities at Mineral King so don't build or close anything unnecessarily. The narrow, winding road will keep out all but the venturesome.

What structures, building, and historic sites that exist at Mineral Ki ng now should be preserved because that Is the essential character of a place that lends unique quality to a national park. Making historic preservation a reality in Mineral King will not spoil the grandiose and noble scheme to manage the parks as an eco system.

Let's face the facts. What bugs national park advocates about Mineral King is the fact that the cabins are private property. Eventually, a public-benefit partner needs to assume the ownership and operation of the property.

In the short run, the GMP must continue the permit process because it makes no sense to do it any other way. The people who use the property also will maintain the historic district and pay a fee determined by NPS.

In the meantime, the next 20 years or so, the MK foundation, trust, or whatever, needs to be created so as to receive the properties that no longer have owners or heirs willing to reside within the parameters of the historic district.

The public-benefit operator is the only way to determine how much and when the public will freely participate in and feel a genuine part of the district. In the meantime, Mineral King should remain largely unchanged and a unique part of an outstanding national park.

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