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Opinion column: Hope we’re not left outta Lone Tree

Posted: Wednesday, Aug 21st, 2013

For those who don’t realize it, on a day-to-day basis, very little stays consistent in the newspaper business. Whether talking personnel, the “hot-button” issues or even working camera equipment, the news media changes at warp speed.

In the last few months, though, one topic has remained remarkably consistent. It has generated the most calls, the most letters and, undoubtedly, the strongest opinions in a building that NEVER lacks people stopping by with strong opinions.

It almost rolls off the tongue at this point: Lone Tree Canyon.

I’ve read every letter, story and report on the canyon, but, for whatever reason, it never quite resonated with me. I didn’t understand the urgency or the meaning that some people seemed to feel toward a seemingly little-known landmark.

That all changed – big time – a couple weeks ago when I visited the canyon.

Rising up all around you out of nowhere as you drive over a dirt road, Lone Tree Canyon is an amazing place. In the mere 20 minutes I spent there before the skies opened up, I marveled at the steep canyon walls, hiked over the tree-filled paths and hopped over the small meandering stream as the rain began to pour.

It’s a beautiful place, and I’d really like the opportunity to go back and camp there in the future.

But, the clock is ticking. Maybe you’re new to town or just emerged from a rock somewhere outside of Yoder, but Lone Tree Canyon is in danger due to that little dirt road I mentioned a couple paragraphs back.

I won’t claim to be aware of every single detail, but I will run down a couple points. Readers can feel free to write in and tell me if I’m wrong.

1) Lone Tree Canyon Road is evidently a county road, but it’s not maintained as such (see point 2).

2) The road is actually on private property.

3) Point 2 is made quite obvious, as those who own the property surrounding the canyon have made it clear visitors or those on the “county road” are to remain ON the road. After all, cameras are watching. Just don’t ask me where.

4) The Dowers family has owned the main part of Lone Tree Canyon – the part I hiked in – for many years. They have reportedly experienced very few incidents of those causing trouble or making a mess on their property.

5) Goshen County has been left with a decision. They can “vacate” the county road, meaning they no longer own and operate it (let’s not get into whether they ever did in the first place – just read points 1 and 2 again). Or they can refuse to vacate it and maintain it like they would other county roads.

6) The decision on point 5 is not even close to as simple as I made it sound. There are legal issues and either way will come with various ramifications.

7) If vacated, the private property owners reserve the right to gate the road, denying access to those who don’t live there.

Thoroughly confused yet?

If you are, I would encourage you to do one thing. Ignore/forget those seven points, and then go visit Lone Tree Canyon. I respect private property rights, but there is no way – let me repeat that: no way – that canyon should be kept to the few landowners within that small area. Sure, monitor it; keep watching the cameras even. But don’t close it down.

It is without question the most beautiful place in Goshen County. It’s a place that has been enjoyed by a lot of people for many years, and it should continue to be that way no matter what the cost.

Sometimes issues are bigger and more important than simple black and white. Remember, the area surrounding the Tetons used to be private property until landowners recognized the sum is bigger than the parts. That sum (of cash) overcame the parts, or in this case, parcels of private property and the owners, to preserve that area for the general public.

I doubt John D. Rockefeller is coming to buy out everyone in Lone Tree Canyon, but I sure hope all parties can come to a reasonable agreement to allow future generations to visit, camp and enjoy the canyon.

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