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New Mexicans speak out on Gila road closings

Steve Pearce

Many of us in New Mexico have fond memories of the Gila as a weekend paradise. We have spent Friday nights after work driving to our favorite spot, unloading the kids, camping out, telling stories, and making memories before piling back into the minivan, pickup, or station wagon on Sunday. Our schedules don’t allow us to spend days or weeks hiking in, but open access has always made this a treasure to be enjoyed by all.

Now, the Forest Service wants to take away that freedom.

Numerous New Mexicans have been contacting me — by e-mail, phone, Facebook, meetings, and when I visit their hometowns — to tell their stories. They tell me of a friend or family member who will lose access to their favorite corner of the world. They tell me of their memories of the Gila, and their hopes for future trips. They tell me that to preserve these, the proposed closures must be stopped.

Some, like Reverend Mike Skidmore from Truth or Consequences, simply love escaping with their loved ones into the Gila. For Rev. Skidmore, the Gila is a place to enjoy nature and “get away” — an experience he has shared with his children, grandchildren, and even members of his congregation. He fears that road closures will force everyone to the same crowded campsites, ending the days of quiet refuge and fellowship he always found there.

Others have expressed concern for the elderly and disabled. The joys of the forest should be available to everyone, not just those with the physical ability to hike miles with a heavy pack. Charlie and Paula Stevens have camped in the Taylor Creek Canyon together for the past 35 years. The couple explained that as they grow older, they will become unable to access their spot without roads. Restricted access could bring their lifelong tradition to an end. This sort of discrimination against the elderly and disabled is unacceptable.


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Some worry about their families. Butch Morgan, a local small-business owner, shared his disappointment that his 11 grandchildren could be unable to experience the forest the way he did when he was their age. Restricting access could mean that fewer families have the time or ability to make memories in this splendid forest.

Those who live in the Gila, including ranchers and farmers, are deeply concerned. Roads throughout the Gila connect them to their livelihoods, their homes, and their backyards.

Still others worry about safety. I share their concerns: Any time roads are closed, it is important to ensure that emergency personnel will not be impeded. When addressing public safety, minutes count. I will continue to ask questions and hold the Forest Service accountable to ensure that no time is lost.

I share the concerns of my fellow New Mexicans, and will fight for their access to our national treasures. But I can’t do this alone. Attend local meetings. Call your friends and newspapers. Express your concerns to the rest of our congressional delegation, and to the Forest Service. Together, we can defend the freedom to enjoy the Gila for generations to come.

Pearce, a Republican, represents New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District in Congress.

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7 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.

  1. What folks seem to be missing on this is that the road closer is just the small part of it.
    The big part is the suggested restrictions on how far off the road can be used for motorized camping etc.
    If any part of this plan gets through it will be limited way less than it is now, It would be more like the wilderness areas over national forest as recreational. It is an attempt to take areas that are open to recreation and simply closing them to short of walk, horse mule, etc.
    Were as the limits may have reason (such at them recreational ORV and ATV); it is an erosion of the general public access due to the few who insist of misuse of public lands.
    It seems to be simpler to take the freedom of many, over enforcement of laws that already exist or need to exist for the few.
    The end result is don’t get on that government property, over the land belongs to the people.
    This has already been done to many national forest lands already. It is a very quiet and methodical method being used by the forest officials to shut out the people. All done under travel management plans. It wont just be Forest, it will also fall over to BLM and BOR etc..
    The method is working for the forest service; and others government land management agency will take it up to restrict the peoples rights.

    R. B. L.

  2. If someone came up to Pearce and spoke in support of the closings, Pearce would ignore them. He went along with the Republican lies about Social Security in his Social Security “Listening” Tour back in 2005, this is more of the same.

    [ A bit of history: I remember the big bus, and all his supposed experts that came to the Willie Estrada Civic Center in Alamogordo and put up all sorts of fancy graphs on the big screen to show how much better off we would be (on average) if we invested our money in the stock market. They had one to show that the average return on Social Security was only 1%. After about an hour of this mumbo jumbo, I figured out that they got that number by counting all the people that died before they reached retirement age. And I said so (he actually did allow some audience input).]

  3. The project page with lots of links. See Alternative F map (pdf) for changes noted on maps of the Gila.

  4. See http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5246207.pdf (from “Travel Management Planning Information” link on http://fs.usda.gov/goto/gila/travel)

    See Table 1 on page 22 (of 31). Doing nothing is “Alternative B.” Recommended Alternative A doesn’t appear labeled as such in table. However, Alternative F is the recommended plan.

    Keep in mind changes are compared to doing nothing, which seems to mean no limits on motorized use.

  5. Yes, typical politician, these days anyway. And typical for government bureaucracy, the information on this is buried (though somewhat lightly). Go to the Gila site and you won’t find it without digging.

    If someone wants us to react, as this pol is calling for, how hard would it be to explain what is going on, how hard is to link to the useful information?
    But for anyone interested, here is the page with most of the information: http://www.fs.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsinternet/!ut/p/c4/04_SB8K8xLLM9MSSzPy8xBz9CP0os3gDfxMDT8MwRydLA1cj72BTMwMTAwjQL8h2VAQArb-_RA!!/?ss=110306&navtype=BROWSEBYSUBJECT&navid=130110000000000&pnavid=130000000000000&accessDB=true&position=Project*&groupid=24477&ttype=projectdetail&pname=Gila%20National%20Forest-%20Projects
    (Even their URLs exemplify government bureaucracy).

  6. @mjh: Oh good grief, look it up, its not hidden, ever heard of Google?

  7. I expect a congressman to have some *facts* not just a bunch of fears. If he knows what the Forest Service is up to, tell us. Don’t just frighten and rile up people. That is NOT leadership.

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