Challenge of the Big Trees
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Chapter Seven:
Two Battles for Kings Canyon


The Forest Service in Kings Canyon

The Forest Service watched the controversy with considerable but detached interest. Perhaps in the minds of forestry officials the entire conflict was a tempest in a teapot, particularly that between tourism and reclamation proponents. The philosophy and policy of multiple use would surely allow some combination of these features to be established. Accordingly, the Forest Service regional office began planning to develop recreation facilities along both the South and Middle forks of the Kings River regardless of whether dams and reservoirs were to be established. The key to any comprehensive development was Cedar Grove. Here the Forest Service intended to build a grand resort complex which would cater to the recreation desires of a broad cross section of the population. Tehipite Valley was to be approached by road for possible later development.

The earliest planning efforts culminated with a lengthy document prepared by Forest Service landscape architect George Gibbs. His plan proposed an enormous infrastructure, so large in fact that his supervisor angrily rejected the report and forced Gibbs to redo it. That first report called for camping facilities for more than 6,000 people; up to six fairly large hotels and numerous other structures; access roads from the west, south, and over the high Sierra from the east; and even an airstrip. His second report completed one year later reduced the camping capacity and road plans, particularly eliminating the trans-Sierra component. Nevertheless, this plan too apparently was beyond the immediate designs or desires of Gibbs' supervisors. [13]

The Forest Service, like the Park Service, was much affected by pressure groups, persuasive popular movements, and infiltration by proponents of different conservation strategies and philosophies. All of these had combined by the 1930s to create a Forest Service anxious to please both development and preservation interests. While the Forest Service has often been accused of catering only to resource developers and users, they have long responded to groups like the Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society. Hence, despite the magnitude of the Cedar Grove plans, even after Gibbs' proposals were scaled down, the 1935 master plan of Sequoia National Forest also called for a "primitive area" including the upper canyon of the South Fork from the Roaring River eastward. It also suggested eventual inclusion of the entire Middle Fork area. This area was to be closed to roads and summer homes and grazing was to be halted. The only development in the area would be an expanded trail network, principally for hikers. [14] How long this novel idea had been brewing and its exact relationship to the almost concurrent Interior Department proposal for a wilderness park may never be known. What is clear, however, was the waxing power of the preservation lobby on the national scene and in the southern Sierra.

While debate continued on the nature and magnitude of development, the Forest Service, in cooperation with the state of California, set out in 1933 to build a spectacular mountain road from General Grant National Park to Cedar Grove, a distance of some thirty miles. Not until 1939 was the project complete. Meanwhile, in Kings Canyon itself, beginning in 1937, four large and comfortable campgrounds with a combined capacity of 335 sites were built near a tiny existing ranger station. However, plans for Cedar Grove were delayed as the Forest Service cautiously watched the intensifying controversy. Not only the threat of inundation but the possible loss of the area to the Park Service made this a delicate arena in which to spend limited monies and manpower. And that possibility appeared to be growing ever stronger as the decade waned. Meanwhile, road plans for Tehipite Valley foundered after being incorporated into the Sierra Way proposal in time for that entire road project to collapse. [15]


Challenge of the Big Trees
©1990, Sequoia Natural History Association
dilsaver-tweed/chap7b.htm — 12-Jul-2004