White Pass Expansion

Did it really take 33 years? Here’s a blog piece by Ron Judd in the Seattle Times.

But because it was, technically, a sacrifice of a small piece of wilderness for ostensibly political purposes, the whole thing obviously still grates like a sharp rock in the hiking boots to at least some enviros, who see it as a black/white, corporate profit/vs. conservation matter. The Sierra Club’s Mark Lawler cited it immediately last week when I asked him how the White Pass expansion could legitimately be called a “major disaster,” as he suggested.

I get the emotions; conservation is an emotional issue to many Northwesterners, and for that we should all be grateful. I also appreciated attorney David Bahr’s important perspective — that important principles were maintained in the legal fight. Precedents from the case affected other litigation. But in this case, a bit of literal forest-for-the-trees logic should have come into play long, long ago.

It’s too late now, of course. But not for lessons learned. And one is that the environmental movement in this case would have been better served by focusing on its successes — celebrating the amazing lands preserved as wilderness for the small price of allowing a relatively green public use of a small, federal-highway-bordered parcel near an existing ski area — than by digging in for a legal battle which, over the years, increasingly smacked of crying wolf, if not vengeance.

With all that perspective knocking around in my brain, I made a visit to White last week and quickly fell in love with the new ski terrain on Hogback. It’s truly beautiful. Having hiked there on occasion in the summer, I realize it was truly beautiful as wilderness, as well (aside from the nearly lethal waves of mosquitoes; but that’s another story). But physical changes to the place indeed are minimal. It seems to me to be a shining example of limited development done correctly. And that became a focus of my piece.

Ranger Sue Ranger of the Naches Ranger District is careful not to criticize opponents of the project. They’re all constituents, as well, with a claim to proper use of public land. But as someone involved in the case for much of its history, she truly believes the best public use was accomplished.

She is one of those old-fashioned people (I count myself among them) who believe that environmental protection is essential — but not to the point that it prevents citizens from using public lands in low-impact ways, thereby creating a lasting political constituency for their protection from more egregious uses.

Most conservationists agree with that. The question, in this case, is whether alpine skiing and snowboarding is a low-impact use.

You an argue it both ways. And you should. I’ll probably even ponder it all over again myself, next time I’m at White Pass, making some turns up top and feeling fortunate to partake in a clean, green use my federal government decided — finally — to allow.

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