Many visitors call a 63-year-old cabin in the Tonto National Forest, Ariz., a "half-acre garden of Eden." The Grand Canyon Trust says it's "a historical, aesthetical and botanical treasure."
Yet the Forest Service has decided to
tear down the cabin within six months. The agency made the decision
despite a spirited effort by the private, liberal-arts Prescott
College to save the site. The college owns the cabin and leases the
surrounding half-acre orchard from the Forest
In 1982, the college signed a 10-year
lease which included the stipulation that any buildings remaining
on the property after December 1993 would be removed. Joel Hiller,
acting president of the college and dean at the time, signed that
agreement. He says he anticipated no problems renewing the lease.
He was wrong.
Last year, Forest Service officials
said renewal of the lease was inconsistent with national policy and
that they wanted to build a trailhead where the cabin stands.
Stunned by the turndown, the college asked elected officials and
the public for support. The Forest Service backed off, and agreed
to issue the college a one-year, special-use permit while reviewing
Now the year is up, and in a
six-page letter to Prescott College President Hiller Dec. 9, Tonto
Supervisor Charles Bazan outlined the reasons why he denied the
school's request for a new 10-year lease.
said that the cabin is dilapidated and lacks historical
significance; that few Prescott College students visit the site,
and those that do could easily use a nearby facility run by Arizona
State University; that water currently used to water the orchard
and flowering shrubs should be used for native species; and that
the forest has a policy of phasing out isolated cabins. The letter
did not mention the need for a new
Perhaps the person most distressed by
the Forest Service denial is Richard Landis, the caretaker of the
cabin and orchard for the last quarter of a century. Landis
spearheaded a letter-writing campaign for the college that
generated some 1,000 letters to the agency over the last year.
"It's unbelievable that the Forest Service would
target this half-acre out of a 3 million-acre forest," says Landis.
"This is a beautiful and unique example of man and nature working
in harmony. Why would they want to destroy it?"
Although the Forest Service says the decision is
not appealable, Landis says he and the Prescott College officials
are looking into any avenues of recourse they might have left.
Forest Service spokeswoman Joyce Hassell says
she sympathizes with Landis. "He has a deep emotional attachment to
this place that is hard to quantify," she says. "But this
particular piece of land is on the national forest and we have a
responsibility to serve the broader public."
Just days following the decision to deny
Prescott College's permit, Tonto Forest officials released a plan
calling for a new trailhead at a site adjacent to the cabin. For
more information, contact the Tonto National Forest, 2324 E.
McDowell Road, P.O. Box 5348, Phoenix, AZ 85010
* Peter McBride
The writer is a former HCN
intern. Paul Larmer contributed to this