HISTORY OF TENURE AND DEVELOPMENT (continued)
Although a benign neglect characterized Forest Service policies towards the cliff dwellings, another management policy for the Gila National Forest would have a profound effect on the future of the national monument: the establishment of the Gila Wilderness in 1924. The idea of a large roadless area in a national forest was originally proposed by Aldo Leopold, a graduate of the Yale Forestry School who had begun working in the Southwestern District in 1909.  An assistant district forester in charge of grazing by 1915, Leopold was also a sportsman with a consuming interest in game management, a nascent field that later made him a national figure. In that same year, Congress passed an Agricultural Appropriations Act that for the first time established recreation as a legitimate use of the multiple-use forest policies, and Leopold was given the task of planning recreation in the Southwestern District.  This work primarily consisted of planning campgrounds, plotting subdivisions for summer homes, and developing commercial policies. In 1920, however, in the Journal of Forestry, Leopold proposed something grander: a national hunting ground in a roadless area "big enough to absorb a two-week pack trip."
In 1922, Leopold surveyed possibilities in the Gila National Forest with Supervisor Fred Winn and returned to Albuquerque with a proposal, in the form of a recreational plan, for a roadless or wilderness area of approximately 750,000 acres. Frank Pooler, the district forester, signed the recreational plan on June 3, 1924, thereby designating the first official wilderness in the world. 
In the heart of this wilderness lay Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. Since the new recreational plan essentially prohibited the construction of new roads through the wilderness, the monument remained isolated at the end of a very rough nineteenth-century wagon trail. The few residents on the Gila forks were permitted to use this unmaintained track, but only trucks with special gearing could manage the terrain. Although grazing was still permitted, logging was proscribed, mining inhibited, and the construction of public recreational facilities prohibited. As a result, the forks of the Gila remained undeveloped, far eddies on a remote stream.
The recreational plan that created the Gila Wilderness was modified in the late 1920s in a way that would again--although only years later--affect Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument. On the east side of the wilderness, reconstruction began on the North Star Road, an old military trail first built to control Apaches during the Fort Tularosa Reservation period. Pressure to reopen this road by ranchers and logging interests had been resisted until 1929, when a tremendous growth in the population of deer occurred. Fearing a repetition of the Kaibab disaster, where thousands of deer on the north rim of the Grand Canyon had died of starvation, Frank Pooler, on the recommendation of a committee convened to address the problem, authorized the road reconstruction so hunters could better get into the remote country to reduce the herds.  The road was completed in 1931. Although Leopold and Winn urged that the road be closed to public use except when necessary, the North Star Road remained open year around, cutting off the Black Range from the rest of the Wilderness.
The same committee of representatives from the Forest Service, the U.S. Biological Survey, the state game department, and the Silver City Game Protective Association that had recommended the reconstruction of the North Star Road also recommended improving the Gila Hot Springs Road as far as the Gila Flats--only half way to the Hot Springs and the cliff dwellings beyond. Eventually this improvement was also made.  Although a locked gate at Gila Flats prevented uninvited visitors from continuing on the rough private track that the new owners of Lyons Lodge maintained to the Gila River, this road and the North Star Road set precedents that would embroil Gila Cliff Dwellings in controversy twenty years later. For the time being the national monument remained isolated, however. Only residents on the Gila forks had keys to the locked gate, and the lock stayed until shortly before the end of the Second World War. 
Last Updated: 23-Apr-2001