This past weekend I spent Saturday afternoon visiting with an old friend up north, and what I found there was a poor understanding of what is going on in Carbon County.
My friend, whom I have known since before kindergarten because we grew up less than a block from one another, now lives in the little town of Oakley in Summit County. My oldest son and I decided to stop by and see him on our way to Park City where we were going to attend the last leg in a dog sled race that had begun the week before in Wyoming.
As we sat in his comfortable home that overlooks the Kamas Valley the conversation ran from catching up on things we had been doing since I last saw him in September to some of the people we went to high school with. Eventually the dialogue, as it usually does, turned to what had been going on locally and nationally. My friend tends to be liberal in his politics, but his Utah upbringing keeps him from going too far toward what many call eastern liberal thinking. Yet a comment he made about what he had been hearing and reading about Nine Mile Canyon caught my attention.
"I have been reading about what has been going on and my wife wants me to take her down there before the gas and oil companies destroy the place," he said to me as he tipped a bottle of Polygamy Porter into his mouth. My friend is a reader of the Salt Lake Tribune and some other periodicals. He also proudly told me not long before that statement came out of his mouth that for Christmas his kids had given him one of those satellite radio systems for his truck that he drives into the University of Utah where he works each day. He told me that he listens quite a bit to Radio American Left.
"I think maybe you have been listening a little too much to the Sierra Club and SUWA information," I said diplomatically. "There are other sides to the story of Nine Mile Canyon, and it is a very complicated situation that is not easily explained by only one or two sides. When discussing land issues in Carbon County or anywhere in rural Utah you have to take into account the fact that many people make their living off the land. There are the mineral industries and then there are the ranchers, the tourism business and just people who want to recreate there too."
My friend is a very reasonable man, but I also saw that I struck a nerve about the situation a little, probably because he had read so much negative about development in our area.
"The problem I see is if they let all those who want to do anything they want do it, everything will get ruined," he said.
So for the next ten minutes I spent some time explaining what had been going on with the new Bureau of Land Management RMP, the Nine Mile Advisory Committee, some of the improvements that had been made in the canyon. I also told him about some of the things that have been done with the cooperation of the BLM, the county, various other agencies and the gas exploration companies.
"I think most importantly people need to know that the canyon has a very high percentage of private property in it, and those people have a right to use their property as they see fit," I said. I also explained that the actual gas exploration he had been reading about lie on plateau above the canyon itself. But I also told him that the canyon was being used for the traffic that goes to the fields as well as by timbering companies. I explained that much of the problem in the canyon itself had to do with the road, which is something the Nine Mile Advisory Committee as well as the county is working on.
I could tell after he had listened to me, I hadn't exactly changed his mind, but he was starting to understand that the explanation for what he saw going on wasn't just a one sided environmental story or simply a case of big business trying to trash a place to get out the resources.
Later, as we drove away from his house toward Park City it began to make me think about what is going on in the west. Here is friend of mine who owns a number of acres in what has been a fairly rural place in the state that faces many of the same issues we in Carbon County do. Once I explained the situation on a personal level, views he had developed from "official" sources became more softened. That made me realize that it takes all of us to get our view of what is going on in our county out to the world.
When I was in college in the early 1970's I once sat by student from Lebanon. The class we were in was a political science course on the middle east and each day he would report to me what was going on in his country from the viewpoint of his family who still lived in Beirut. He once told me to compare the reports I heard on the nightly news about the situation in his country with what he was telling me.
"You will find the local view of what is going on very different from what you are reading in the papers and watching on television here," he told me once.
He was right; his version of the politics and the conflict going on there was very different, and gave me a whole new perspective on the middle east, and on the Arab/Israeli problem. I think many of those in this state outside our area as well as out of state are in the literally the same boat about what is going on here.
What other people often see and read about our area, particularly when it comes to federal and state lands and energy development, doesn't always tell the whole story or the entire truth. In my mind everyone who lives here has the chance to influence the thinking of people outside our area about issues that are important to us and our county.
In fact, based on the importance of these matters to our countys well being, I believe that isn't just optional, but is an important responsibility everyone who lives here should take to heart.