Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Op-Ed: New Mexicans Speak Out on Gila Road Closings

By Steve Pearce

    Many of us in New Mexico have fond memories of the Gila as a weekend paradise.  We have spent Friday nights after work driving to our favorite spot, unloading the kids, camping out, telling stories, and making memories before piling back into the minivan, pickup, or station wagon on Sunday.  Our schedules don’t allow us to spend days or weeks hiking in, but open access has always made this a treasure to be enjoyed by all.
    Now, the Forest Service wants to take away that freedom.
    Numerous New Mexicans have been contacting me—by email, phone, Facebook, meetings, and when I visit their hometowns—to tell their stories.  They tell me of a friend or family member who will lose access to their favorite corner of the world.  They tell me of their memories of the Gila, and their hopes for future trips.  They tell me that to preserve these, the proposed closures must be stopped.
    Some, like Reverend Mike Skidmore from Truth or Consequences, simply love escaping with their loved ones into the Gila.  For Rev. Skidmore, the Gila is a place to enjoy nature and “get away”—an experience he has shared with his children, grandchildren, and even members of his congregation.  He fears that road closures will force everyone to the same crowded campsites, ending the days of quiet refuge and fellowship he always found there.
    Others have expressed concern for the elderly and disabled.  The joys of the forest should be available to everyone, not just those with the physical ability to hike miles with a heavy pack.  Charlie and Paula Stevens have camped in the Taylor Creek Canyon together for the past 35 years.  The couple explained that as they grow older, they will become unable to access their spot without roads.  Restricted access could bring their lifelong tradition to an end.  This sort of discrimination against the elderly and disabled is unacceptable. 
    Some worry about their families.  Butch Morgan, a local small-business owner, shared his disappointment that his eleven grandchildren could be unable to experience the forest the way he did when he was their age.  Restricting access could mean that fewer families have the time or ability to make memories in this splendid forest.
    Those who live in the Gila, including ranchers and farmers, are deeply concerned.  Roads throughout the Gila connect them to their livelihoods, their homes, and their backyards. 
    Still others worry about safety.  I share their concerns: any time roads are closed, it is important to ensure that emergency personnel will not be impeded.  When addressing public safety, minutes count.  I will continue to ask questions and hold the Forest Service accountable to ensure that no time is lost.
    I share the concerns of my fellow New Mexicans, and will fight for their access to our national treasures.  But I can’t do this alone.  Attend local meetings.  Call your friends and newspapers.  Express your concerns to the rest of our congressional delegation, and to the Forest Service.  Together, we can defend the freedom to enjoy the Gila for generations to come.

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