Regarding your recent essay "Mute, riven, blessed" (HCN, 4/17/06: Mute, riven, blessed): Headstones, crosses and other symbols used to mark the passing of a life are prohibited on national forest and Bureau of Land Management lands. Although well-meaning mourners find comfort in placing memorial markers in a beautiful setting, others find the memorials intrusive.
One of the more prominent monuments recently erected on national forest lands was for a local who lost his life in an avalanche near Mancos, Colo. Mourners killed a 100-year-old subalpine fir by turning it into a 20-foot cross. This incident created an outcry from several people who were driving in the vicinity, who called the Dolores office and demanded the private memorial be removed at once. Forest officials have since taken down the cross and spoken with family members.
Exceptions do exist for monuments of a historical nature such as Buffalo Bill’s gravesite or the Dominguez-Escalante trail. Any other use of national forest lands to mark individual sites, cemeteries, etc., is essentially a permanent private use of public land.
Authorizing this type of use is likely to open the door to others who want to erect their own memorials. In addition, people may impede future management activities if they feel those activities desecrate an area where a loved one has been memorialized.
There are options for people wishing to memorialize loved ones on public lands. Survivors are encouraged to donate recreation facilities in developed sites (such as picnic shelters, benches, trailheads, and snow shelters) in the name of their loved ones. Please contact your local public lands office for information.
Toni Kelly, Visitor Information Specialist FS/BLM
San Juan National Forest
Dolores Public Lands Office