Others in Escalante country were less than pleased. Remember the high school students who released dozens of black balloons, the residents who grimly set fire to an effigy of Clinton? These were the folks who’d grown up angry at the government, infuriated by the gradual tightening of grazing and logging restrictions on the surrounding public land. To them, the monument was just another example of federal meddling.
“The land wasn’t ours, but we felt like it was,” says former Kanab Mayor Karen Alvey. “It was as if we’d adopted a child, then been told we were no longer needed.”
Frustration about the monument has flared up regularly in recent years, and its expression has often been personal and threatening. In the town of Escalante, some tied effigies of backpackers to the hoods of their pickup trucks, then lined up their vehicles on the town’s main drag. When a couple of outspoken environmental activists from Berkeley, Calif., moved to town, their support of wilderness and opposition to a local reservoir project earned them repeated visits from vandals (HCN, 5/24/99: Greens not welcome in Escalante).
IN THE MIDDLE OF THIS BOILING STEW OF RESENTMENTS sat the Bureau of Land Management, freshly anointed by Clinton as a manager of national monuments. The agency, and the monument staff in particular, faced massive pressures from above, below, inside and out. Opponents in the local communities were mired in their own fury.
Environmentalists, though pleased about the president’s proclamation, were wary of the BLM’s livestock-and-mining past. High-level Park Service staffers felt they should have been the ones to manage world-class piece of land. And though many within the BLM were flattered and excited by the new responsibility, some of its old guard resented the exhortation to change.
The Clinton administration did its best to shore up the monument and the near-friendless agency. Kate Cannon’s predecessor, Jerry Meredith, got a $5 million budget in 1997 and a “dream team” of about 20 high-powered planners from the BLM and other state and federal agencies.
By the end of 1999, the team had come up with a management plan that emphasized scientific research and the primitive, “frontier” nature of the land (HCN, 11/22/99: Go tell it on the mountain). There would be no Park Service-style visitor center inside monument boundaries, no parking lots, no new paved roads.
Though grazing, recreation and most other uses would be more closely watched than they had been, any additional restrictions would be based on existing law.
The management plan got mostly good reviews from environmentalists. “They did a very good job of developing a management plan that was true to the (presidential) proclamation,” says Pam Eaton of The Wilderness Society’s Four Corners office.
Even local critics started to unbend a little. The monument had begun hiring a steady stream of local high-school interns, and town and county politicians started to talk about making lemonade out of lemons. Kane County Commissioner Joe Judd, who had been outraged by the proclamation, realized the monument could and should benefit his county. He began traveling to Washington, D.C., to stump for federal funds, and he even became friendly with the likes of Clinton’s Interior secretary, Bruce Babbitt.
Judd says he’s done his best to forget his initial anger: “I tell people that if I try really hard, I can remember the monument (proclamation). But I don’t choose to.”
Dell LeFevre, one of the Garfield County commissioners who championed the paving of the Burr Trail, isn’t quite so sanguine. “It was a chickenshit trick, as underhanded as you can get,” he says without hesitation. But the monument has, at least indirectly, helped make his life a little bit easier.
Long before Clinton’s proclamation, the BLM had been gradually restricting LeFevre’s grazing allotment along the Escalante River. Fewer cattle on the riverbanks meant thicker willows, and the canyon was becoming tougher to navigate on horseback. One day, miles from home, LeFevre’s horse punched through the roof of a beaver den, fell, and pinned him firmly to the ground. His horse was unable to right itself, so LeFevre lay there for four or five hours, staring up at the blue sky and racking his brain for an escape.
LeFevre had just resigned himself to shooting and butchering the horse when he remembered the long-ago advice of a muleskinner acquaintance. He rummaged in his bag, pulled out a warm can of Pepsi, and carefully poured a few drops into the horse’s ear. The horse started, shifting just enough for LeFevre to scramble out and start extricating his horse.