'Developer' wants access to Oregon wilderness

  • Walking in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness

    U.S. Forest Service

For many, wilderness designation - the promise that no roads and no permanent structures will mar a sensitive area - is an environmental dream come true. But 12 miles within southwestern Oregon's Kalmiopsis Wilderness, a man with old mining claims wants to improve a road and build a resort. He's calling it "reasonable access," a right granted mineral claim-holders under the Wilderness Act of 1964.

Carl Alleman has held eight mining claims in the Kalmiopsis since 1982. On three of the parcels, he owns the land as well as whatever minerals lie beneath it. On those 60 acres, Alleman and partner Loy Martindale say they plan to build a destination resort catering to the handicapped, a group Alleman says is usually "lopped out of the wilderness."

Up until last year, under an informal agreement with the Forest Service, Alleman was allowed two trips to his claims a week. The agency balked a year ago when it discovered that Alleman was making more trips and planning to build the resort. They locked the gate at the area's Onion Camp entrance and now Alleman must apply for a special-use permit to drive the 12 miles to his claims.

Alleman says he purposely had some people illegally drive around the gate to "bring this thing to a head. It's not a mining claim any longer," he argues. "It is private property." Alleman is quick to point out how much money he could make by mining or logging the area, but he says he has no plans to do either.

In the past, Alleman has had other ideas for the land. In 1994, he offered to sell the claims, for which he originally paid $150, back to the public for $850,000. According to Barbara Ullian of the Siskiyou Project, a local environmental group, the claims have been assessed at $78,000, but Kalmiopsis district ranger Mary Zuschlag could not confirm this.

Critics say Alleman's offer to sell is tantamount to blackmail. "They're holding a gun to the head of the American government and saying "Meet our demands or we're going to ruin your wilderness," " says George Nickas of Wilderness Watch. "How much damage is the Forest Service going to allow to the wilderness when there are private inholdings?"

Opponents to Alleman's plans say the resort will disturb hikers and habitat by bringing busloads of tourists, glaring nighttime lighting and inappropriate buildings into the wilderness. Allowing Alleman access through a walking trail would be more appropriate to a roadless area, says Ullian, especially since car tires help spread a fatal root disease that is already threatening rare Port Orford cedars found within the Kalmiopsis.

Ranger Zuschlag says that while it will be hard to take away access Alleman has had for 15 years, the Forest Service sincerely wants to protect the wilderness, perhaps through a land exchange. She cautions, though, that such a process could be lengthy and expensive, a cost Alleman would have to support. Says Zuschlag, "It would be great if that land could be purchased, but we cannot pay more than the appraisal."

Sarah Dry is an HCN intern.

High Country News Classifieds