My grandfather built our family cabin in Bear Creek, Alpine Meadows in 1963. My great grandfather rebuilt the Squaw Valley Lodge for Mr Paulson in time for the 1960 Olympics. I was carried up to Five Lakes and Granite Chief Wilderness, by my dad, before I was old enough to hike on my own.
I have been hiking the Five Lakes and Granite Chief Wilderness for almost thirty years. Every year I return to these areas and feel a sense of peace there. John Muir’s words about these High Sierras capture it wholly: “In God’s wildness lies the hope of the world – the great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and wounds heal ere we are aware.”
The Five Lakes were originally protected in the early 1960s by Huey Johnson of The Nature Conservancy. Huey bought the land from a private party and then handed it to the Forest Service, so it could be permanently protected for the public. In the 1980s, these lakes and the larger Granite Chief land were designated as Wilderness, securing even broader protection from human development.
We thought these lands were saved. Protected in perpetuity. But they are once again threatened by private interests, vulnerable to profit-driven development.
The proposed Squaw-to-Alpine gondola would outright endanger the protection of the Granite Chief Wilderness and the delicate Five Lakes ecosystem. The proposed gondola cuts through a Wilderness Boundary that was designated by Congress. It would permanently deface and diminish the long-cherished extraordinary value of the area.
A particularly egregious and harmful aspect of the gondola idea is a large concrete and steel “load/unload mid-way station,” which would be built where an endangered frog species currently lives. This station would destroy existing frogs and permanently ruin a habitat determined (by law) to be “critical for the species survival.”
The idea that these wilderness areas may not be fully protected is heartbreaking. I see this gondola proposal stealing the sanctity of the Granite Chief. How could the legal acts and noble proclamations of past generations end up as broken promises? How could we knowingly discard a wilderness to accommodate private profit?
Stunning and pristine areas such as these are what the Sierras are all about, inspiring and energizing generations of hikers. We must stand and fight for our sacred places, as John Muir did, as my family does, as my children will. These lands hold for us a gateway to a greater understanding of life and ourselves in the world. These special areas will be the great gifts we give our future generations. We must recognize that there are precious few landscapes left for the benefit of the future. Let’s hold onto this one.
This opinion piece was originally published in the May-June 2018 Issue of Moonshine Ink. This opinion piece has been republished with the consent of the author, Lauren Heagerty. Lauren Heagerty works for Nike and has hiked the Five Lakes and Granite Chief Trails since she was five. You can find her “on the granite” on any given summer day.
For more information on the Squaw Alpine Gondola and the comment period/process, please go to the USFS website to learn more: https://www.squawalpinegondola-eis.com/