Challenge of the Big Trees
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Chapter Eight:
Controlling Development: How Much Is Too Much?


Cedar Grove: The One Big Failure of Mission 66

In 1947, with the release of the "Kings Canyon Development Plan," the National Park Service confidently expected imminent completion of major visitor facilities at Cedar Grove. The Fresno Chamber of Commerce and other local business groups had abandoned their efforts to force construction of the infrastructure at Copper Creek and had expressed satisfaction with the scale of the Cedar Grove plans. The Sierra Club, despite the grumblings of younger members, accepted the location and scale of the planned development as the least of all evils. Although government funds for completion of the road to Copper Creek were slow in coming, there was no reason to believe that this delay would affect development at Cedar Grove. At long last the Park Service hoped to see the canyon brought into full use and the completion of the government's side of great compromise.

Park officials, however, had not bargained on Howard Hays, George Mauger, and their Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Company. For the next twenty-five years, Hays and Mauger resisted every effort of the Park Service to force investment in and expansion of concession operations in the canyon. With the deliberate destruction of company records by later executives in the 1960s, the reflections and confidential preferences of the men are unavailable. Yet their record on all matters regarding construction, expanded operations, and longer seasons of operation point to a pair of men who simply did not want to invest in Cedar Grove. Indeed, in a rare glimpse of true feelings, Hays wrote in 1955:

I do not feel that Kings Canyon is a second Yosemite by a long shot. It is a delightful Sierra Valley and will have many attractions for visitors, but I do not think it will attract the resort type who enjoy a vacation in the cool area of the Giant Forest.

It was in that resort crowd and in Giant Forest that Mauger and Hays saw their priorities. They had no interest in what they saw as a distant, seasonally snowbound, and presumably doomed canyon far from the main park highway. [16]

The company had seemed interested during the early days of the park. Shortly after successful passage of the Kings Canyon park bill in 1940, Mauger officially applied for permission to develop the canyon's tourism resources. However, that enthusiasm seemed to evaporate once the park began operations, to be replaced with protestations that conditions made investment unsafe and unwise. The earliest reasons arose from the odd status of the canyon's jurisdiction. Under the laws of the time, concessions on Forest Service lands could only receive five-year contracts compared to the twenty-year contracts signed with the Park Service. In addition, Forest Service permits only allowed five acres to each concession company for its operations. Throughout Kings Canyon's first decade, Department of Interior representatives, along with friendly congressmen, struggled and successfully overcame these problems by special legislation and brought Cedar Grove into line with the rest of the parks. [17]

George Mauger
First as general manager and later as part-owner, George Mauger managed the concessions in the two parks for forty years. (National Park Service photo)

World War II was a second issue that obviously hindered investment. The scarcity of equipment, supplies, funds, manpower, and visitors combined to squash all construction plans for nearly four years. However, by 1945, with visitation on the rise and the war moving toward its conclusion, Colonel White suggested resumption of limited operations in the canyon and of planning for postwar development. The concessioners responded by writing that they were shocked at this suggestion and that, "when the casualties affect every neighborhood, as they will by next summer, our people (Americans) are going to be on edge about undue emphasis on non-essentials." Colonel White reacted with immediate and typical scorn by writing to Director Drury:

The point is that I have for years been trying to discuss plans with Mr. Mauger, but find that he must always refer them to Mr. Hays. And when I suggest an appointment with Mr. Hays, he is too busy on important matters or he cannot stand the arduous drive up the frightful Giant Forest road, or there is some other excuse. . . . I fully realize the difficulties under which all park operators now labor with regard to employment and OPA and other regulations. But the fact remains that, as good businessmen, the officers of the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Company desire to serve the public only when the cream is cheap and plentiful. I do not mind that natural attitude but object to the insinuations that they are virtuously refraining from stimulating travel while park officers are viciously disregarding the national interest and all regulations. [18]

With the war over and the jurisdictional and planning problems almost solved, Mauger and Hays presented three new and ultimately far more obstructive reasons for delay. The first was the inadequacy of infrastructure, particularly the lack of a water system for fire protection and the undersized sewage treatment facility. Available systems dated from the early days of the Forest Service in Kings Canyon and were wholly inadequate for existing demand, much less any grand expansion. The government did improve both systems by 1954 with further enlargement in 1957, but the concessioners had managed to win an agreement allowing them to delay construction until five years after completion of improved water and sewage lines. Hence, it was late in the decade before Mauger and company were required to uphold their agreement. These delays in government installation of infrastructure arose from the same funding and development woes that plagued the road to Copper Creek and blunted programs throughout the national park system. [19]

A second reason for resistance to investment in Cedar Grove sprang from the issue of power, specifically electrification. Commencing in the late 1950s, negotiations for construction of a power line to the canyon by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company snagged on the matter of the concessioner's share of the costs. Initially Mauger tried to coax the government into bearing the entire charge. As negotiations proceeded through and beyond Mission 66, company representatives held out for government payment of two-thirds of the $37,000 annual maintenance fee despite the fact that the concession facilities would use more than half the power. Finally, the government and PG&E split nearly the entire cost of construction and early maintenance, allowing completion of lines into the canyon in early 1972. [20]

Despite the importance to Mauger and Hays of such issues as water, sewage and power, they paled in contrast to the threat of inundation from reclamation and power development in the canyon. In 1947, that issue had seemed a distant and unlikely prospect. Downstream, in the foothills, construction was underway on an enormous structure at Pine Flat. The reservoir would hold approximately one million acre feet of water, or two-thirds of the total annual runoff from the entire Kings River system. In addition, negotiations had begun for further projects on the North Fork of the river. Most Department of Interior people and many in the San Joaquin Valley expected there never to be a need for Cedar Grove or Tehipite Valley reclamation. [21]

Then, to the consternation of everyone, on May 4, 1948, Los Angeles refiled petitions with both the Federal Power Commission and the State Water Board to build dams and power stations at both canyons as well as at several sites within the young park. For several reasons, the Kings River Conservation District filed immediately on the same sites. One of their reasons was to block Los Angeles. Rumors had begun to surface that the city did not need the power but simply meant to sell it for profit. In such a development local communities would receive no benefit. Another story suggested that Los Angeles engineers meant to drill a tunnel fourteen miles under the Sierra Nevada and add Kings River water to their Owens Valley aqueduct. Although that suggestion was discounted by most reasonable men, the old fears of Los Angeles water piracy had surfaced. [22]

In addition to the threat from Los Angeles, locals had fallen into bitter disagreement with the Bureau of Reclamation over development of the North Fork. The Kings River Water Association wanted development of combined water storage and power generation facilities by Pacific Gas & Electric. This would allow the water to be kept entirely for local irrigation districts. The Bureau of Reclamation, on the other hand, wanted to design similar structures but make the river part of the Central Valley Project, a huge federal program principally aimed at shifting water southward from the Sacramento Valley to the San Joaquin Valley. As a byproduct some extra water went, once again, to Los Angeles. If the North Fork waters became part of the Central Valley Project, local farmers would lose control of the water and, as they saw it, suffer during California's periodic drought years. [23]

The Federal Power Commission took both issues under study while Park Service officials, Fresno civic leaders, and Sierra Club representatives hurriedly conferred. The problem of North Fork development was settled relatively quickly with the nod going to the locals and PG&E on November 5, 1949. Thereafter construction began on the Courtwright and Wishon dams and on associated power stations. The two projects were completed in 1962, ten years after the Pine Flat Dam, and gave locals control of storage facilities capable of holding more than three-fourth's of the annual runoff from the Kings River Basin. [24]

The defeat of Los Angeles, on the other hand, took somewhat longer. Despite continued rejections of their applications, the city refiled in 1952, 1954, and 1959. After settlement of the North Fork issue, local irrigation officials felt secure yet they refiled each time on the same sites, confiding to the Park Service that they only meant to block Los Angeles. Finally, in 1963 the State Water Board, following the lead of the federal government by three years, rejected the last Los Angeles proposal for the Kings River. [25]

With the Los Angeles threat finally removed, most local politicians and citizens joined the quarter-century-old movement to give the canyons to the national park. The Kings River Water Association, loath to lose control of any potential resource, still opposed inclusion, but, nevertheless, the bill passed easily. On August 6, 1965, Cedar Grove and Tehipite Valley became parts of Kings Canyon National Park, some eighty-four years after Senator Miller made the first proposal.

map of Kings Canyon development proposals
(click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

This persistent, uncertain status of Cedar Grove gave George Mauger and Howard Hays all the reason they needed to balk at spending money for construction. Always a miserly sort, Mauger complained that his company could barely hold its own and could scarcely be expected to invest in such a large construction project in such a threatened locale. He and Hays consulted with an attorney in 1954 and, based on his recommendations, offered three solutions to the problem. First, the canyon could be incorporated into the national park, thus eliminating the threat. Or the federal government could build concession facilities and lease them to the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Company. This would place the investment risk on the government rather than on Mauger and Hays. Finally, the Park Service could allow construction of facilities near Copper Creek, within the existing park and well east of the reservoir's reach. [26]

The Park Service declined the last two options and could not implement a takeover of Cedar Grove for twenty-five years; but it assured Mauger that if he built visitor facilities which were later flooded, he would be recompensed. However, Mauger took a dim view of such promises and secretly so did some Park Service personnel. This attitude may have arisen because in two and one-half decades of arguing with George Mauger, and despite the prominent inclusion of Cedar Grove development in Mission 66 plans, the Park Service never invested in any substantial structures either. Here at the nub of the issue the official record becomes nebulous, but Mauger's reticent attitude seemed to be infectious. Repeatedly Mauger pointed to the threat of power withdrawal and pleaded that his limited resources were needed elsewhere—now for repairs at Giant Forest, later a new Grant Grove coffee shop, still later additions to visitor facilities at Lodgepole. Again and again, he made the case stand up, and resisted efforts to build more than a few miserable tent cabins at Cedar Grove. [27] As long as Mauger delayed, the Park Service seemed equally unwilling to build beyond the water and sewage infrastructure. Plans for a major visitor center with museum simply lay dormant while park planners reallocated funds and priorities elsewhere in the parks.

In 1965, as Mission 66 drew to a close, the Park Service finally fulfilled the first of Mauger's options—incorporation of the canyon into the park and its automatic protection from inundation. But before the issue could again be broached, George Mauger, following Hays' earlier lead, sold the company and, shortly thereafter, retired. This began a lengthy, confusing process of sellouts and mergers that combined to freeze any further progress for another seven years. The new owner was the Fred Harvey Company, a major concessioner in the national parks of the Southwest. In Cedar Grove, the Harvey Company exhibited the same unwillingness as Mauger to make any improvements. Indeed, during its short tenure operating the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Company, it allowed much of the maintenance to lapse. In 1968, the Fred Harvey Company merged with the huge Amfac conglomerate, a corporation so diverse and so large that a puny operation like the Sequoia and Kings Canyon concession received only enough attention to assure that it was not a strong moneymaker. Accordingly in 1972, Amfac sold the concession rights to Government Services, Inc. (GSI), concessioner for Washington D.C.'s national capital parks. [28]

In Government Services, Inc., the parks finally had a concessioner with substantial resources devoted to the business of national park concessions. The company had been founded as a nonprofit organization to bring better quality to park tourism operations. GSI approached Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks in general and Cedar Grove in particular with a will to develop and the money to back it up. The coincident arrival of PG&E electric lines seemed finally to clear the way for the kind of development in the canyon that had been sought since the early 1930s.

Over the years of negotiating with Mauger and Company the Park Service had scaled back its plans for Cedar Grove in reaction to continued pressure from the Sierra Club and from its own increasingly preservationist officials. In 1957, the Park Service dropped the proposed cabin pillow count from 700 to 260. [29] Gone too were ideas of campground expansion beyond the 370 sites in existence. Nevertheless, the plans released by the Park Service in 1972, with GSI's blessings, still called for a substantial buildup of visitor facilities. New lodges and cabins would house 260 people, a new 11,000-square-foot store and cafeteria complex would complement an equal-sized new visitor center now well overdue from Mission 66. Parking for more than 500 cars in the canyon was anticipated as well as enlarged facilities for picnicking. [30] The main pack station would also remain at Cedar Grove but a small branch station would be built at Copper Creek. The long years of delay, argument and stingy investment were over. With these plans amicably approved by the new concessioner, a confident Park Service sat back to wait for the reaction from the public on what finally was to be done with the beautiful canyon of the South Fork.


Challenge of the Big Trees
©1990, Sequoia Natural History Association
dilsaver-tweed/chap8c.htm — 12-Jul-2004