Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Can Ridges Basin yet survive the Disneyification of Lake Nighthorse?

I've always had this odd predilection: I'm drawn to little places. Ever since I was a kid, I would seek and see the nooks and crannies and the subtle, hidden gems right around where ever I happened to be. And they nearly always harbored interesting and complete -- and wild in their own way -- little worlds.

Big, dramatic landscapes are quite lovely, no doubt -- and damn well worth defending, of course. That's obvious -- because the big, dramatic places are so obvious.

But the little places -- the little stashes and caches of wildness and flow that remain within and amidst the greater general environmental de-evolving development unfolding and/or unraveling everywhere we happen to be today -- well they're important, too. Because even if they aren't as meaty as the big, dramatic landscapes, these little places are the connecting sinew and muscle holding our less-wild worlds together. And they're still essential -- especially because of their proximity -- for keeping us sane and in touch with the undeveloped world.

And they're vital now more than ever, as in the 21st century the lingering big blocks of landscapes get either locked up for chopped up. Now our hungers turn their longing eyes on the little places. Nearby, I cite Hermosa Creek -- which may be on the cusp of getting some needed protection. And the HD Mountains, which recently lost its protection.

And Ridges Basin. Which lost its protection when the ALP project dammed the Basin to created Lake Nighthorse -- but which may yet get a partial retrieve. If enough of us speak up.

The Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District has won a grant from the National Park Service River and Trails program, and, with the help of a private consulting firm, is working on setting up a process for public meetings and input on the design of recreation on and around Lake Nighthorse . 

We can save both money and what has always made Ridges Basin a treasure through two stipulations on any Lake Nighthorse recreation plan: Minimal building and non-motorized uses.

This is the argument I make in "Silent Nighthorse," my San Juandering column in the May issue of Inside Outside.
One night I was walking the lonely county road that used to run through Ridges Basin. It was a near-full-moon night, cold and quiet, when I saw what appeared at first to be an apparition: a square light from a dimly-lit trailer, and behind it some kind of big, bright mass swirling slowly in the meadow.
As I got closer, the scene came together: An old sheepherder’s wagon stood along the dirt road, and behind it a flock of sheep (600 head, I would soon learn) grazed in the moonlight. While I stood there in awe, in appreciation, relishing the unexpected spectacle, out of the trailer came the sheepherder himself.
As the young Navajo shepherd shined his big flashlight over his charges, I learned he was driving the flock to Ignacio for lambing, having walked from La Plata, New Mexico, a few days earlier. He would cross the Ridges Basin tomorrow, pushing the sheep down through Basin Creek’s narrow outlet canyon, to the Animas River, and on into Ignacio a few days later.
His story amazed me -- that that people still had jobs that required walking a hundred miles of lovely country – but then came the hammer: He informed me that after 100 years, I was witnessing this outfit’s the last sheep drive through Ridges Basin. Why? Because the next year the site of the dam that will create Ridges Basin reservoir, the construction of which had already begun, would be impassable.
We were quiet for a while, pondering the import of all that. The he broke the silence: "Why do they have to ruin good country?" he asked me, not really seeking answer. Because we both knew why.
The Animas-La Plata water project ...
Read the entire "Silent Nighthorse" here.

As a side note, to see a possible nightmare future at Lake Nighthorse, check out the new user fees instituted by the Pine River Irrigation District at Vallecito Reservoir recently to pay for recreational facilities there.

I'll be providing news and updates about public hearings to shape the fate of Ridges Basin and Nighthorse Reservoir on the San Juan Almanac.
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